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Were Trump Advisers Communicating With Russian Intelligence Prior To His Election Win?

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In a late-breaking Valentine's Day story, The New York Times on Tuesday reported that President Donald Trump's aides repeatedly communicated with Russian intelligence officials before the election. The communications involved multiple members of Trump's campaign staff. United States intelligence agencies were still investigating the links and told The Times that, so far, they had seen "no evidence of cooperation."

Still, the report noted that the multiple intelligence officials who spoke with the newspaper (anonymously, since the investigation is ongoing) found the links "alarming" given the complimentary ways in which Trump spoke about Russian president Vladimir Putin during the campaign and, most notably, a speech where Trump encouraged Russia to hack Hillary Clinton's emails. He later claimed the remark was simply a joke.

According to the report, as Russia was trying to disrupt the U.S. election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, law enforcement officials and intelligence agencies were finding call logs and phone records between senior Russian intelligence officials and Trump advisers, aides, and associates. So this would be around the time that FBI Director James Comey made his potentially game-changing announcement about Clinton's emails (which turned out to be nothing) days before the election, while saying nothing about the Trump investigation.

One of the Trump associates named in the report as having communicated with Russian intelligence was Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, who had previously worked in Russia. When talking to The Times about the allegations, he said,

This is absurd. I have no idea what this is referring to. I have never knowingly spoken to Russian intelligence officers, and I have never been involved with anything to do with the Russian government or the Putin administration or any other issues under investigation today. It’s not like these people wear badges that say, "I’m a Russian intelligence officer."

Tuesday was a busy day for Russia and the Trump administration. White House national security adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign amid allegations that he misled the administration about his previous contact with the Russian ambassador to the United States, and that he could potentially be blackmailed by Russia.

And earlier in the day Tuesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer continued to claim at a press conference that, as far as he knew, nobody in the campaign had any contact with Russia leading up to the election.

The matter is still under investigation, so new information could come out at any moment.