US spies, FBI probing Trump team
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.
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.