Trump campaign had ‘at least 18 contacts with the Russians’

WASHINGTON, May 18 – Advisers to Donald Trump’s election campaign allegedly shared at least 18 calls and emails with Russians in the final stages of the presidential race. 

Michael Flynn and other advisers contacted people with Kremlin ties during the last seven months of the campaign, according to current and former US officials familiar with the exchanges.

The alleged discussions focused on mending US-Russian economic relations strained by sanctions imposed on Moscow, cooperating in fighting Islamic State in Syria and containing a more assertive China.

The previously undisclosed interactions form part of the record now being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the US presidential election and contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Six of the calls and emails described to Reuters were alleged phone calls between Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak and Trump advisers including Flynn, his first national security adviser.

Conversations between Flynn and Kislyak allegedly accelerated after the November 8 vote.

Four current US officials said the two discussed establishing a back channel for communication between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could bypass the US national security bureaucracy, which both sides considered hostile to improved relations.

In January, the Trump White House initially denied any contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. The White House and advisers to the campaign have since confirmed four meetings between Kislyak and Trump advisers during that time.

The people who described the calls and emails said they had seen no evidence of wrongdoing or collusion between the campaign and Russia in the communications reviewed so far. 

But the disclosure could increase the pressure on Trump and his aides to provide the FBI and Congress with a full account of interactions with Russian officials and others with links to the Kremlin during and immediately after the 2016 election.

The White House did not respond to requests for comment and Flynn’s lawyer declined to comment as did a Russian foreign ministry official.

A spokesman for the Russian embassy in Washington said: ‘We do not comment on our daily contacts with the local interlocutors.’

The 18 calls and electronic messages allegedly took place between April and November 2016.

During this time as hackers engaged in what US intelligence concluded in January was part of a Kremlin campaign to influence the outcome of the election in favor of Trump over his Democratic challenger, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

Members of the Senate and House intelligence committees have gone to the CIA and the National Security Agency to review transcripts and other documents related to contacts between Trump campaign advisers and associates and Russian officials and others with links to Putin, said people with knowledge of those investigations.

The US Justice Department said on Wednesday it had appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential campaign and possible collusion between Trump´s campaign and Russia. 

Mueller will now take charge of the FBI investigation that began last July. Trump and his aides have repeatedly denied any collusion with Russia.

In addition to the six phone calls involving Kislyak, the communications described to Reuters involved another 12 calls, emails or text messages between Russian officials or people considered to be close to Putin and Trump campaign advisers.

One of those contacts was by Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch and politician, according to one person with detailed knowledge of the exchange and two others familiar with the issue.

It was not clear with whom Medvedchuk was in contact within the Trump campaign but the themes included US-Russia cooperation, the sources said. Putin is godfather to Medvedchuk’s daughter.

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