President Donald Trump’s administration has now conceded that some of its top officials did indeed have contact with Russia during the campaign. Michael Flynn lost his job as national security adviser over the admission last month, and on Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions had his power diminished when he promised to recuse himself from investigations into Russia’s interference in U.S. elections.
But it’s not just Flynn and Sessions. On Thursday, officials admitted there were three other people who communicated with Russia during the campaign as well.
Two Trump campaign aides, Carter Page and J.D. Gordon, met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in Cleveland during the GOP convention last summer. In December, Trump’s senior aide and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, joined Flynn for a meeting with Kislyak.
The Trump administration has maintained that there was nothing improper about these meetings and that they were not, for example, talking about how Russia could help Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton for the presidency. U.S. intelligence agencies have said they believe Russia interfered to do precisely that, although they have not yet revealed any evidence directly linking the Trump campaign to such efforts.
But on at least three occasions, the Trump administration ― including the president himself ― had said no one from the campaign had any contact with Russian officials last year.
On Jan. 15, shortly before Trump took office, Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly said on television that there was zero contact between the campaign and Russian officials.
“Just to button up one question, did any adviser or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election?” CBS “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson asked.
“Of course not,” Pence replied.
Pence also answered “of course not” when asked a similar question that day by “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace, adding, “All the contact by the Trump campaign and associates were with the American people.”
Trump himself denied these interactions, according to NBC News on Jan. 11:
Trump did not specifically address questions regarding whether members of his staff were in contact with Russian officials during the campaign. When NBC News repeated that question to Trump afterwards as the president-elect approached the elevator to exit the room, he answered “No.”
In February, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer seemed to stand by those earlier denials.
“There’s nothing that would conclude me that anything different has changed with respect to that time period,” Spicer said.
These statements have been proved wrong now over and over.
Both Trump and President Barack Obama were briefed on the intelligence community’s findings that there was “repeated” contact between Russian intelligence operatives and the Trump aides during the campaign, although it’s not clear when those briefings took place.
It’s also not known whether Trump specifically knew which members of his inner circle were having these meetings.
Pence, for example, has said he did not know Flynn had lied about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. That misrepresentation is the reason Trump said he fired his national security adviser, maintaining that there was nothing wrong with the two men talking.
On Thursday night, Trump tweeted that he stood by Sessions despite his admission.
Sessions failed to disclose his two encounters with the Russian ambassador under oath during his confirmation hearing.
“I’m not aware of any of those activities,” Sessions said in January, when Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked him whether anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign had met with Russian officials.
“I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I did not have communications with the Russians,” he added.
Sessions has maintained that his conversations with the ambassador were part of his duties as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, not as a Trump surrogate.
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