US spies, FBI prob­ing Trump team

The Press - - World -

UNITED STATES: US in­tel­li­gence agen­cies and the FBI are con­duct­ing mul­ti­ple in­ves­ti­ga­tions to de­ter­mine the full ex­tent of con­tacts that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­vis­ers and as­so­ciates had with Rus­sia dur­ing and af­ter the 2016 elec­tion cam­paign, ac­cord­ing to four na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials with knowl­edge of the mat­ter.

Sev­eral agen­cies were con­duct­ing the in­quiries into Rus­sia’s ef­forts to med­dle in the US elec­tion and co­or­di­nat­ing as needed, said the of­fi­cials, who re­quested anonymity. The in­ves­ti­ga­tions pre­dated the dis­missal of re­tired lieu­tenant gen­eral Michael Flynn as na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser on Tues­day.

Trump as­so­ciates whose ac­tiv­i­ties the agen­cies were ex­am­in­ing in­cluded his for­mer cam­paign chair­man Paul Manafort, en­ergy con­sul­tant Carter Page, long­time Repub­li­can op­er­a­tive Roger Stone and Flynn, two of the of­fi­cials said.

Manafort, in a state­ment, said he ‘‘never had any con­nec­tion to [Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir] Putin or the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment ei­ther di­rectly or in­di­rectly be­fore dur­ing or af­ter the cam­paign’’.

The FBI had two par­al­lel on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions, one of­fi­cial said. A coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence in­ves­ti­ga­tion was look­ing at Rus­sian es­pi­onage ac­tiv­i­ties and to what ex­tent, if any, they in­volved com­mu­ni­ca­tions with or col­lu­sion by US of­fi­cials. The se­cond, a cy­ber­se­cu­rity in­ves­ti­ga­tion, was prob­ing the hack­ing of US po­lit­i­cal groups and operatives.

Lead­ing con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans yes­ter­day joined calls by Democrats for a deeper look at con­tacts be­tween Trump’s team and Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence agents, in­di­cat­ing a grow­ing sense of po­lit­i­cal peril within the party af­ter new re­ports sur­faced of ex­ten­sive con­tacts be­tween the two.

Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee staff started col­lect­ing in­for­ma­tion in Jan­uary in a broader probe of Rus­sia’s al­leged in­ter­fer­ence in last year’s elec­tion, ac­cord­ing to Demo­crat Sen­a­tor Joe Manchin of West Vir­ginia, who sits on the panel.

Mark Warner, the rank­ing Demo­crat on the panel, said staffers had al­ready vis­ited the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies and had col­lected some of the raw in­tel­li­gence in­volved in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Warner said that in ad­di­tion to the hack­ing al­le­ga­tions and Trump as­so­ciates’ al­leged con­tacts with Rus­sia, the com­mit­tee was in­ves­ti­gat­ing other Rus­sian at­tempts to in­flu­ence the elec­tion and dis­sem­i­nate pro­pa­ganda. ‘‘There were lit­er­ally hun­dreds, if not thou­sands, of Rus­sian in­ter­net trolls try­ing to ma­nip­u­late our news flows,’’ he said.

Manchin said he ex­pected the com­mit­tee to be­gin call­ing wit­nesses later this month.

Among those he would like to see tes­tify are Flynn, Manafort and for­mer act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral Sally Yates, who was fired af­ter she re­fused to de­fend Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der on im­mi­gra­tion.

Manafort, who served as Trump’s cam­paign di­rec­tor for only sev­eral months be­fore be­ing re­moved, de­nied that the cam­paign had any links to Rus­sia.

‘‘In the cam­paign, the only con­ver­sa­tions on any topic that re­lated to Rus­sia, hack­ing etc were those fol­low­ing the coverage in the news. There was no link, that I am aware of, be­tween the cam­paign or me with the Rus­sian govt and any­one associated with it.’’

Trump yes­ter­day called Flynn ‘‘a won­der­ful man’’ who had been ‘‘treated so badly’’ by the news me­dia. He also de­cried the leaks of clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion as ’’a crim­i­nal act’’.

Sev­eral Repub­li­cans are start­ing to call for more ro­bust probes of any po­ten­tial Rus­sia con­tacts, with Sen­a­tor Lind­sey Graham of South Carolina say­ing yes­ter­day it was ‘‘im­per­a­tive’’ that Congress in­ves­ti­gated the mat­ter.

‘‘The Rus­sians have been try­ing to break the back­bone of democ­ra­cies all over the world, and clearly in my view, in­ter­fered in the 2016 elec­tion,’’ he said.

- Bloomberg


Don­ald Trump’s for­mer cam­paign chair­man Paul Manafort, left, and en­ergy con­sul­tant Carter Page, right, are among the Trump as­so­ciates whose ac­tiv­i­ties are be­ing in­ves­ti­gated.

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