“He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did,” Trump said of Putin, speaking with reporters aboard Air Force One as he traveled to Hanoi, the second-last stop of his Asia trip.
“Every time he sees me, he said: ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I believe, I really believe that when he tells me that he means it,” Trump said, noting that Putin is “very insulted” by the accusation. Trump called the accusation an “artificial barrier” erected by Democrats — once again casting doubt on the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia did try to interfere in the election to help Trump win.
Trump and Putin did not have a formal meeting while they were in Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, but the two spoke informally several times on the event’s sidelines and reached an agreement on a number of principles for the future of war-torn Syria.
But Trump made clear that the issue of Russian meddling in the election hovers over the leaders’ relationship and said it jeopardized their ability to work together on issues including North Korea’s escalating nuclear program and the deadly conflict in Syria.
“Having a good relationship with Russia’s a great, great thing. And this artificial Democratic hit job gets in the way,” Trump told reporters. “People will die because of it.”
Trump danced around the question of whether he believed Trump’s denials, telling reporters that pressing the issue would have accomplished little.
“He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” said Trump.
“Well, look, I can’t stand there and argue with him,” he added later. “I’d rather have him get out of Syria, to be honest with you. I’d rather have him, you know, work with him on the Ukraine than standing and arguing about whether or not – cause that whole thing was set up by the Democrats.”
Trump’s suggestion that he may believe Putin over his own nation’s intelligence community is certain to re-ignite the firestorm over the issue of election meddling. Meanwhile, a special counsel investigation of potential collusion between Moscow and Trump campaign aides so far has resulted in two indictments for financial and other crimes unrelated to the campaign, as well as a guilty plea. Congressional committees have also been interviewing campaign and White House staff.
Earlier Saturday, the Kremlin issued a statement saying the leaders had reached agreement on a number of principles for the future of civil war-torn Syria now that the Islamic State group has largely been pushed out. Among the agreements’ key points, according to the Russians, were an affirmation of de-escalation zones, a system to prevent dangerous incidents between American and Russian forces, and a commitment to a peaceful solution governed by a Geneva peace process.
The Kremlin quickly promoted the agreement as the White House stayed silent. Trump told reporters that the deal was reached “very quickly” and that it would save “tremendous numbers of lives.” And he praised his relationship with Putin the two “seem to have a very good feeling for each other and a good relationship, considering we don’t know each other well.”
Snippets of video of from the summit in the sea-side city of Danang showed Trump and Putin shaking hands and chatting, including during the world leaders’ traditional group photo. The two walked together down a path to the photo site, conversing amiably, with Trump punctuating his thoughts with hand gestures and Putin smiling.
Journalists traveling with Trump were not granted access to any of the APEC events he participated in in the picturesque tropical seaside city Saturday.
White House officials had worked quietly behind the scenes negotiating with the Kremlin on the prospect of a formal meeting. The Russians raised expectations for such a session and Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Asia that it was “expected we’ll meet with Putin” to discuss issues including ramping up pressure on North Korea to halt its nuclear and ballistic weapons program.As speculation built, the two sides tried to craft the framework of a deal on the future of Syria that Trump and Putin could announce in a formal bilateral meeting, according to two administration officials not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions.
Though North Korea and the Ukraine had been discussed, the two sides focused on trying to strike an agreement about a path to resolve Syria’s civil war once the Islamic State group is defeated, according to officials. But the talks stalled and, minutes before Air Force One touched down in Vietnam, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters the meeting was off.
Trump will be attending a state dinner in Hanoi Saturday night. On Sunday, he’ll meet with the country’s president and prime minister before heading to his last stop: The Philippines. (Time)
A Trump campaign aide has pleaded guilty to lying to FBI investigators probing the campaign’s possible links to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, according to court documents unsealed Monday.
George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy advisor to the campaign early last year, entered the plea October 5, admitting he sought to hide contacts with a Moscow linked professor offering “dirt” on Donald Trump’s election rival Hillary Clinton.
“Through his false statements and omissions, defendant Papadopoulos impeded the FBI’s ongoing investigation into the existence of any links or coordination between individuals associated with the campaign and the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election,” the indictment said.
The indictment and plea were unsealed Monday a short time after former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and business partner Rick Gates were charged with conspiracy against the United States, money laundering and making false statement.
Michael Caputo, who served as a communications adviser to the Trump campaign, has been asked by the House committee investigating Russian election meddling to submit to a voluntary interview and to provide any documents he may have that are related to the inquiry.The House Intelligence Committee, which is examining possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, made its request in a letter on May 9. Mr. Caputo, who lives near Buffalo and spent six months on the Trump team, worked in Russia during the 1990s and came to know Kremlin officials. He also did work in the early 2000s for Gazprom Media, a Russian conglomerate that supported President Vladimir V. Putin.
Mr. Caputo has strongly denied that there was any collusion between him or anyone else on the campaign and Russian officials. He has also accused the committee of smearing him.
A Democratic member of the panel, Representative Jackie Speier of California, raised Mr. Caputo’s name during the March 20 hearing where James B. Comey, then the F.B.I. director, testified on Russia’s interference in the election. She noted Mr. Caputo’s work for Gazprom, and the fact that he met his second wife, who is Ukrainian, while working in 2007 on a parliamentary election in Kiev.
Mr. Caputo is the latest in a string of Trump campaign officials who have been approached by the committee. He is a protégé of Roger J. Stone Jr., one of President Trump’s longest-serving advisers and one of the people who has been a focus of investigators’ interest. Mr. Stone has also denied having any contact with Russian officials.
The panel’s letter asked Mr. Caputo to “produce documents and other materials to the committee and participate in a voluntary transcribed interview at the committee’s offices,” according to a copy obtained by The New York Times.
It asked for “any documents, records, electronically stored information including email, communication, recordings, data and tangible things” that could “reasonably lead to the discovery of any facts within the investigation’s publicly announced parameters.”
The committee said it wanted to discuss with Mr. Caputo a number of topics, “including Russian cyberactivities directed against the 2016 U.S. election, potential links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns, the U.S. government’s response to these Russian active measures, and related leaks of classified information.”
Mr. Caputo has denounced the allegations for months on social media, and said he tried to contact Ms. Speier the day after she mentioned him and his wife in the hearing.
In a written response to the committee, Mr. Caputo, who said he plans to comply with its request, said, “At no time during this period did I have any contact with Russian government officials or employees.” He said he did not discuss Russia with anyone else on the campaign, including Mr. Trump, during his employment from November 2015 to June 2016.
“The only time the president and I talked about Russia was in 2013, when he simply asked me in passing what it was like to live there in the context of a dinner conversation,” he wrote. (The New York Times)
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein briefed senators Thursday afternoon, and he didn’t present a lot of new information on the Department of Justice investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign or his decision to appoint former FBI Director Robert Mueller to head up that probe. But Rosenstein’s remarks to lawmakers suggested that what had been a “counterintelligence investigation” was now morphing into a criminal one, one senator said afterward.
“I think the shot to the body is it’s now considered a criminal investigation,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a former military prosecutor, said as he exited the closed-door briefing in the basement of the Capitol. And Graham said that could impede Congress’s “ability to conduct investigations of all things Russia.” For example, “I find it hard to subpoena records of somebody like [former National Security Adviser Michael] Flynn, who may be subject to a criminal investigation because he has a right not to incriminate himself,” Graham explained. “As to Mr. [James] Comey, the former director of the FBI, coming before the committee, if I were Mr. Mueller, I would jealously guard the witness pool.”
Graham acknowledged that Rosenstein did not explicitly confirm that the department was now looking into possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign as a criminal matter. And Repubican Senator Bill Cassidy said Rosenstein stressed that the existence of the investigation itself does not mean that somebody definitively committed a crime. But Graham emphasized “the takeaway I have is that everything he said was that you need to treat this investigation as though it may be a criminal investigation.”
Until Wednesday, Rosenstein was the most senior Department of Justice official overseeing the investigation, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an active Trump supporter during the 2016 election, recused himself on all matters relating to Russia and the campaign. Then, following weeks of pressure from Democrats and outside commentators, Rosenstein announced Wednesday evening he was appointing Mueller as special counsel heading up the department’s probe. “Based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command,” Rosenstein explained in a statement.
According to Democratic Senator Richard Durbin, Rosenstein didn’t say exactly when or why he decided a special counsel was necessary. “Clearly it wasn’t last night, it’s been a matter of a few days.” he said. The Illinois Democrat added that Rosenstein “kind of rejects the premise that he wasn’t going to appoint one” until pushed to do so by the recent headlines. In the past 10 days, the president abruptly decided to fire his FBI director and then acknowledged that it was due, in part, to his objections to the Russia investigation. News reports in recent days have indicated that Trump also previously asked Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn, who quit his post in January after lying to White House officials about his conversations with the Russian ambassador after the election. Those developments have driven up the scrutiny of the Department of Justice probe exponentially.
Rosenstein himself has been under fire for his role in Comey’s firing. He wrote a memo criticizing Comey’s handling of last year’s investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information, which White House officials initially cited as the sole rationale for Comey’s ouster. In subsequent days, however, Trump acknowledged he’d decided to fire Comey even before he read Rosenstein’s memo. And senators from both parties said Rosenstein told them Thursday he was aware that the FBI director would be fired when he drafted it. But Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill said Rosenstein “was very careful about not going into any details surrounding [Comey’s] removal beause he wants to give Robert Mueller the opportunity to make his independent decision about where the investigation is going.”
Rosenstein’s decision to name a special counsel seems to have helped redeem his reputation as a nonpartisan operative. It was widely welcomed on Capitol Hill, even by Republicans who had long resisted the move. “I have full confidence in former Director Mueller. I think he’s an excellent choice,” GOP Senator Marco Rubio told reporters after the briefing. But Rubio differed with Graham on whether Mueller’s investigation would hinder ongoing probes into the matter by the Senate and House intelligence committees. “It is my hope that there will not be conflict between one another.”
While Rubio said he was glad Rosenstein came to the Hill to brief Senators, he and other lawmakers said they didn’t learn much more than they already knew. In part, that’s because Rosenstein didn’t want to step on Mueller’s toes, now that the latter is in charge. And it’s because he is apparently all too aware of how much senators talk to the media. “He did stress that he was concerned that whatever he said would be made public to the press,” Cassidy told reporters with a chuckle, “so therefore he felt limited in what he could say.” (NEWSWEEK)
KIEV — A month before Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, one of his closest allies in Congress — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — made a politically explosive assertion in a private conversation on Capitol Hill with his fellow GOP leaders: that Trump could be the beneficiary of payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016 exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is a Californian Republican known in Congress as a fervent defender of Putin and Russia.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) immediately interjected, stopping the conversation from further exploring McCarthy’s assertion, and swore the Republicans present to secrecy.
Before the conversation, McCarthy and Ryan had emerged from separate talks at the U.S. Capitol with Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, who had described a Kremlin tactic of financing populist politicians to undercut Eastern European democratic institutions.
The conversation provides a glimpse at the internal views of GOP leaders who now find themselves under mounting pressure over the conduct of President Trump. The exchange shows that the Republican leadership in the House privately discussed Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and Trump’s relationship to Putin, but wanted to keep their concerns secret. It is difficult to tell from the recording the extent to which the remarks were meant to be taken literally.
The House leadership has so far stood by the White House as it has lurched from one crisis to another, much of the turmoil fueled by contacts between Trump or his associates with Russia.
Late Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein announced he had appointed Robert S. Mueller III, a former prosecutor who served as the FBI director from 2001 to 2013, as special counsel to oversee the Russia probe.
Evan McMullin, who in his role as policy director to the House Republican Conference participated in the June 15 conversation, said: “It’s true that Majority Leader McCarthy said that he thought candidate Trump was on the Kremlin’s payroll. Speaker Ryan was concerned about that leaking.”
McMullin ran for president last year as an independent and has been a vocal critic of Trump.
When initially asked to comment on the exchange, Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Ryan, said: “That never happened,” and Matt Sparks, a spokesman for McCarthy, said: “The idea that McCarthy would assert this is absurd and false.”
After being told that The Post would cite a recording of the exchange, Buck, speaking for the GOP House leadership, said: “This entire year-old exchange was clearly an attempt at humor. No one believed the majority leader was seriously asserting that Donald Trump or any of our members were being paid by the Russians. What’s more, the speaker and leadership team have repeatedly spoken out against Russia’s interference in our election, and the House continues to investigate that activity.”
“This was a failed attempt at humor,” Sparks said.
Ken Grubbs, a spokesman for Rohrabacher, said the congressman has been a consistent advocate of “working closer with the Russians to combat radical Islamism. The congressman doesn’t need to be paid to come to such a necessary conclusion.”
When McCarthy voiced his assessment of whom Putin supports, suspicions were only beginning to swirl around Trump’s alleged Russia ties.
At the time, U.S. intelligence agencies knew that the Russians had hacked the DNC and other institutions, but Moscow had yet to start publicly releasing damaging emails through WikiLeaks to undermine Trump’s Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton. An FBI counterintelligence investigation into Russian efforts to influence the presidential election would open the following month, in late July, Comey has said in testimony to Congress.
Trump has sought to play down contacts between his campaign and the Russians, dismissing as a “witch hunt” the FBI and congressional investigations into Russian efforts to aid Trump and any possible coordination between the Kremlin and his associates. Trump denies any coordination with Moscow took place.
Presidential candidate Trump’s embrace of Putin and calls for closer cooperation with Moscow put him at odds with the House Republican caucus, whose members have long advocated a harder line on Russia, with the exception of Rohrabacher and a few others.
Among GOP leaders in the House, McCarthy stood out as a Putin critic who in 2015 called for the imposition of “more severe” sanctions for its actions in eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.
In May 2016, McCarthy signed up to serve as a Trump delegate at the Republican National Convention, breaking ranks with Ryan who said he still wasn’t ready to endorse the candidate. McCarthy’s relationship with Trump became so close that the president would sometimes refer to him as “my Kevin.”
Trump was by then the lone Republican remaining in the contest for the nomination. Though Ryan continued to hold out, Trump picked up endorsements from the remaining GOP leaders in the House, including Rep. Steve Scalise, the Majority Whip from Louisiana, and Republican Conference Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) — both of whom took part in the June 15 conversation.
Ryan announced on June 2 that he would vote for Trump to help “unite the party so we can win in the fall” but continued to clash with the candidate, including over Putin. While Trump sought to cast Putin as a better leader than then-President Obama, Ryan dubbed him an “aggressor” who didn’t share U.S. interests.
On the same day as Ryan’s endorsement, Clinton stepped up her attacks on Trump over his public statements praising Putin. “If Donald gets his way, they’ll be celebrating in the Kremlin,” she said.
Ukrainian officials were unnerved by Trump’s statements in support of Putin. Republicans, they had believed, were supposed to be tougher on Russia.
When Trump named Paul Manafort as his campaign manager in April 2016, alarm bells in Kiev started ringing even louder. Manafort was already well known in Ukraine because of his influential role as a political consultant to Viktor Yanukovych, the country’s former Kremlin-friendly ruler until a popular uprising forced him to flee to Russia. Manafort had also consulted for a powerful Russian businessman with close ties to the Kremlin.
“Ukraine was, in a sense, a testing ground for Manafort,” said Ukrainian political scientist Taras Berezovets, who became a grudging admirer of Manafort’s skills in the so-called “dark arts” of political stagecraft while Berezovets was working for one of Yanukovych’s political rivals.
At the urging of Manafort, Yanukovych campaigned with populist slogans labeling NATO a “menace” and casting “elites” in the Ukrainian capital as out of touch, Berezovets said. Trump struck similar themes during the 2016 campaign.
The FBI is now investigating whether Manafort, who stepped down as Trump’s campaign manager in August, received off-the-books payments from Yanukovych’s party, U.S. officials said. As part of that investigation, FBI agents recently took possession of a newly-discovered document which allegedly details payments totaling $750,000. Ukrainian lawmaker Sergii Leshchenko, who first disclosed the new document, declined to comment on his contacts with the FBI.
A spokesperson for Manafort has said that Trump’s former campaign manager has not been contacted by the FBI. Manafort has also disputed the authenticity of the newly-discovered document.
Groysman, on an official visit to Washington, met separately with Ryan and McCarthy on June 15 at the Capitol.
He told them how the Russians meddled in European politics and called for “unity” in addressing the threat, according to U.S. and Ukrainian officials. Ryan issued a statement after the meeting saying, “the United States stands with Ukraine as it works to rebuild its economy and confront Russian aggression.”
Later, Ryan spoke privately with McCarthy, Rodgers, Scalise and Rep. Patrick McHenry, the deputy whip, among others.
Ryan mentioned his meeting with Groysman, prompting Rodgers to ask: “How are things going in Ukraine?” according to the recording.
The situation was difficult, Ryan said. Groysman, he said, had told him that Russian-backed forces were firing 30-40 shells into Ukrainian territory every day. And the prime minister described Russian tactics that include “financing our populists, financing people in our governments to undo our governments.”
Ryan said Russia’s goal was to “turn Ukraine against itself.” Groysman underlined Russia’s intentions, saying “They’re just going to roll right through us and go to the Baltics and everyone else,” according to Ryan’s summary of the prime minister’s remarks in the recording.
“Yes,” Rodgers said in agreement, noting that the Russians were funding non-government organizations across Europe as part of a wider “propaganda war.”
“Maniacal,” Ryan said. “And guess, guess who’s the only one taking a strong stand up against it? We are.”
Rodgers disagreed. “We’re not…we’re not…but, we’re not,” she said.
That’s when McCarthy brought the conversation about Russian meddling around to the DNC hack, Trump and Rohrabacher.
“I’ll guarantee you that’s what it is…The Russians hacked the DNC and got the opp [opposition] research that they had on Trump,” McCarthy said with a laugh.
Ryan asked who the Russians “delivered” the opposition research to.
“There’s… there’s two people, I think, Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy said, drawing some laughter. “Swear to God,” McCarthy added.
“This is an off the record,” Ryan said.
Some lawmakers laughed at that.
“No leaks, alright?,” Ryan said, adding: “This is how we know we’re a real family here.”
“That’s how you know that we’re tight,” Scalise said.
“What’s said in the family stays in the family,” Ryan added. (The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON (AP) — Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates told Congress Monday she bluntly warned the Trump White House in January that new National Security Adviser Michael Flynn “essentially could be blackmailed” by the Russians because he apparently had lied to his bosses about his contacts with Moscow’s ambassador in Washington.
The testimony from Yates, an Obama administration holdover fired soon after for other reasons, marked her first public comments about the concerns she raised and filled in basic details about the chain of events that led to Flynn’s ouster.
Her testimony, coupled with the revelation hours earlier that President Barack Obama himself had warned Trump against hiring Flynn shortly after the November election, made clear that alarms about Flynn had reached the highest levels of the U.S. government months before. Flynn had been an adviser to Donald Trump and an outspoken supporter of his presidential candidacy in the 2016 campaign.
Yates, appearing before a Senate panel investigating Russian interference in the election, described discussions with Trump White House Counsel Don McGahn in which she warned that Flynn apparently had misled the administration about his communications with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador.
White House officials had insisted that Flynn had not discussed U.S.-imposed sanctions with Kislyak during the presidential transition period, but asked Flynn to resign after news reports indicated he had lied about the nature of the calls.
“We felt like it was critical that we get this information to the White House, in part because the vice president was unknowingly making false statements to the public and because we believed that Gen. Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians,” Yates said.
“To state the obvious,” she added later, “you don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians.”
Yates’ questioning by a Senate panel investigating Russian interference in the presidential election was just one portion of a politically charged day that began with combative tweets from Trump and continued with disclosures from Obama administration officials about a private Oval Office conversation between Obama and his successor.
Republican senators in the hearing repeatedly pressed Yates on an unrelated matter — her refusal to defend the Trump administration’s travel ban — and whether she was responsible for leaking classified information. She said she was not.
Trump shouldered into the conversation early in the morning, tweeting that it was the Obama administration, not he, that had given Lt. Gen. Flynn “the highest security clearance” when he worked at the Pentagon. Trump made no mention of the fact that Flynn had been fired from his high position by the Obama administration in 2014.
Yates filled in new details of the events of Jan. 26, describing contacting McGahn in the morning and telling him she had something sensitive to discuss in person. Later that day, at the White House, she told him there was an alarming discrepancy between how Trump officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, were characterizing Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak and what intelligence officials knew to be true based on recordings of those calls.
The pair spoke several times over the next two days, with McGahn asking Yates how Flynn had fared during an interview with the FBI earlier that week — she did not answer — and why it was the business of the Justice Department if White House officials had misled each other. Flynn’s forced February resignation followed media reports that he had discussed U.S.-imposed sanctions on Russia with Ambassador Kislyak, which was contrary to the public representations of the Trump White House.
Yates herself, a longtime federal prosecutor, was fired by Trump on Jan. 30 after refusing to defend his travel ban. James Clapper, director of national intelligence under President Obama, testified as well on Monday. He retired when Trump took office.
Separately on Monday, former Obama officials said he had raised general concerns about Flynn with Trump and had told the incoming president there were better people for the national security post. Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer said in response that if Obama “was seriously concerned” about Flynn’s connections to Russia or other foreign countries, he should have withheld Flynn’s security clearance. Flynn served under Obama as defense intelligence chief before Obama dismissed him.
Trump repeatedly has said he has no ties to Russia and isn’t aware of any involvement by his aides in any Russian interference in the election. He’s dismissed FBI and congressional investigations into his campaign’s possible ties to the election meddling as a “hoax” driven by Democrats bitter over losing the White House.
The Associated Press reported last week that one sign taken as a warning by Obama officials about Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak was a request by a member of Trump’s own transition team made to national security officials in the Obama White House for the classified CIA profile of Kislyak. The AP interviewed a host of former U.S. officials, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive national security information.
Yates’ warning about Flynn in January capped weeks of building concern among top Obama officials, former officials told the AP. Obama himself that month told one of his closest advisers that the FBI, which by then had been investigating Trump associates’ possible ties to Russia for about six months, seemed particularly focused on Flynn.
Yates, a longtime federal prosecutor and Obama administration holdover, had been scheduled to appear in March before the House intelligence committee, but that hearing was canceled.
The subcommittee meeting Monday is one of multiple congressional probes into the Russia interference, along with House and Senate intelligence panels. All the committees are led by Republicans. (AP)
WASHINGTON — Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.
American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time that they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.
The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation.
But the intercepts alarmed American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in part because of the amount of contact that was occurring while Mr. Trump was speaking glowingly about the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin. At one point last summer, Mr. Trump said at a campaign event that he hoped Russian intelligence services had stolen Hillary Clinton’s emails and would make them public.
The officials said the intercepted communications were not limited to Trump campaign officials, and included other associates of Mr. Trump. On the Russian side, the contacts also included members of the Russian government outside of the intelligence services, the officials said. All of the current and former officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the continuing investigation is classified.
The officials said that one of the advisers picked up on the calls was Paul Manafort, who was Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman for several months last year and had worked as a political consultant in Russia and Ukraine. The officials declined to identify the other Trump associates on the calls.
The call logs and intercepted communications are part of a larger trove of information that the F.B.I. is sifting through as it investigates the links between Mr. Trump’s associates and the Russian government, as well as the D.N.C. hack, according to federal law enforcement officials. As part of its inquiry, the F.B.I. has obtained banking and travel records and conducted interviews, the officials said.
Mr. Manafort, who has not been charged with any crimes, dismissed the accounts of the American officials in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “This is absurd,” he said. “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.”
Mr. Manafort added, “It’s not like these people wear badges that say, ‘I’m a Russian intelligence officer.’”
Several of Mr. Trump’s associates, like Mr. Manafort, have done business in Russia, and it is not unusual for American businessmen to come in contact with foreign intelligence officials, sometimes unwittingly, in countries like Russia and Ukraine, where the spy services are deeply embedded in society. Law enforcement officials did not say to what extent the contacts may have been about business.
Officials would not disclose many details, including what was discussed on the calls, which Russian intelligence officials were on the calls, and how many of Mr. Trump’s advisers were talking to the Russians. It is also unclear whether the conversations had anything to do with Mr. Trump himself.
A published report from American intelligence agencies that was made public in January concluded that the Russian government had intervened in the election in part to help Mr. Trump, but did not address whether any members of the Trump campaign had participated in the effort.
The intercepted calls are different from the wiretapped conversations last year between Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States. During those calls, which led to Mr. Flynn’s resignation on Monday night, the two men discussed sanctions that the Obama administration imposed on Russia in December.
But the cases are part of the routine electronic surveillance of communications of foreign officials by American intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The F.B.I. declined to comment.
Two days after the election in November, Sergei A. Ryabkov, the deputy Russian foreign minister, said that “there were contacts” during the campaign between Russian officials and Mr. Trump’s team.
“Obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage,” Mr. Ryabkov said in an interview with the Russian Interfax news agency.
The Trump transition team denied Mr. Ryabkov’s statement. “This is not accurate,” Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for Mr. Trump, said at the time.
The National Security Agency, which monitors the communications of foreign intelligence services, initially captured the communications between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russians as part of routine foreign surveillance. After that, the F.B.I. asked the N.S.A. to collect as much information as possible about the Russian operatives on the phone calls, and to search through troves of previous intercepted communications that had not been analyzed.
The F.B.I. has closely examined at least four other people close to Mr. Trump, although it is unclear if their calls were intercepted. They are Carter Page, a businessman and former foreign policy adviser to the campaign; Roger Stone, a longtime Republican operative; and Mr. Flynn.
All of the men have strongly denied they had any improper contacts with Russian officials.
As part of the inquiry, the F.B.I. is also trying to assess the credibility of information contained in a dossier that was given to the bureau last year by a former British intelligence operative. The dossier contained a raft of salacious allegations about connections between Mr. Trump, his associates and the Russian government. It also included unsubstantiated claims that the Russians had embarrassing videos that could be used to blackmail Mr. Trump.
The F.B.I. has spent several months investigating the leads in the dossier, but has yet to confirm any of its most explosive allegations.
Senior F.B.I. officials believe that the former British intelligence officer who compiled the dossier, Christopher Steele, has a credible track record, and he briefed F.B.I. investigators last year about how he obtained the information. One American law enforcement official said that F.B.I. agents had made contact with some of Mr. Steele’s sources.
The F.B.I.’s investigation into Mr. Manafort began last spring as an outgrowth of a criminal investigation into his work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine and for the country’s former president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. The investigation has focused on why he was in such close contact with Russian and Ukrainian intelligence officials.
The bureau did not have enough evidence to obtain a warrant for a wiretap of Mr. Manafort’s communications, but it had the N.S.A. closely scrutinize the communications of Ukrainian officials he had met.
The F.B.I. investigation is proceeding at the same time that separate investigations into Russian interference in the election are gaining momentum on Capitol Hill. Those investigations, by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, are examining not only the Russian hacking but also any contacts that Mr. Trump’s team had with Russian officials during the campaign.
On Tuesday, top Republican lawmakers said that Mr. Flynn should be one focus of the investigation, and that he should be called to testify before Congress. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said that the news surrounding Mr. Flynn in recent days underscored “how many questions still remain unanswered to the American people more than three months after Election Day, including who was aware of what, and when.”
Mr. Warner said that Mr. Flynn’s resignation would not stop the committee “from continuing to investigate General Flynn, or any other campaign official who may have had inappropriate and improper contacts with Russian officials prior to the election.”
Russia’s unprecedented intervention in the United States election came amid more than United States-Russia tension and Donald J. Trump’s praise of Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president. It also coincided with a growing belief, in Moscow, that Russia faced an imminent threat in Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.Mrs. Clinton is viewed in Moscow as innately hostile to Russia. Widely held conspiracy theories portray her as seeking to foment unrest that will return Russia to the chaos and depression of the 1990s. Even many government technocrats view her with suspicion that at times verges on paranoia.
She referred to these views at an event on Thursday, telling donors that Mr. Putin’s “personal beef” with her had driven Russia’s intervention in the American election.
Mark Galeotti, a Russia expert at the Institute of International Relations, based in Prague, said the Kremlin was consumed by something more urgent than petty revenge: self-preservation.
“It’s not just they didn’t like Clinton, but they actually thought that she represented a threat,” he said, describing Russia’s actions as a matter of “policy, not pique.”
No one factor can fully explain Russia’s decision to hack and pass on Democratic emails, analysts say, and intelligence agencies appear divided on assessing Russian motives. But, in Moscow, fear of Mrs. Clinton has loomed as large or larger than any warmth for Mr. Trump.
Mr. Putin accused Mrs. Clinton of instigating protests against him in late 2011.
“She set the tone for some actors in our country and gave them a signal,” he said, reflecting a widespread view in Moscow that Mrs. Clinton, then secretary of state, had sought to topple Russia’s government.
Mr. Putin returned to the presidency a few months later, appearing to believe that the United States had engineered the Middle East’s descent into chaos and was targeting his country to be next. He put Mrs. Clinton at the center of these plots.
Mrs. Clinton is indeed more hawkish than other Democrats, including toward Russia. In 2008, while a senator, she mocked President George W. Bush’s claim that he had looked into Mr. Putin’s soul.
“I could have told him — he was a K.G.B. agent. By definition, he doesn’t have a soul,” Mrs. Clinton joked. The line is still remembered in Moscow.
But the Kremlin’s views of Mrs. Clinton go beyond defining her as hawkish. They are also layered with a pre-existing Russian belief that promoting American democracy is a ploy to unseat unfriendly governments, that the United States remains bent on Russia’s destabilization or even destruction, and that there is an American hand behind nearly every Russian misfortune.
These suspicions go back decades. But, since Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, popular telling has cast her as the culprit responsible for America’s misdeeds and, therefore, Russia’s setbacks.
In the summer of 2015, when Russian hacking groups first infiltrated Democratic National Committee servers, I happened to be reporting in Moscow. The American name on everyone’s lips was not Mr. Trump’s, who was already praising Mr. Putin, but rather Mrs. Clinton’s.
Fyodor Lukyanov, a prominent Russian foreign policy commentator, told me at the time that there was a widespread view in his country’s government that Mrs. Clinton, as president, would take “a very hostile approach” toward Russia.
Consensus in Moscow, Mr. Lukyanov said, was that “Hillary is the worst option of any president, maybe worse than any Republican.”
It was conventional wisdom, he added, that Mrs. Clinton considered her husband’s efforts to reform Russia in the 1990s an unfinished project, and that she would seek to finish it by encouraging grass-roots efforts that would culminate with regime change.
This summer, when Russian hacking groups began releasing Democratic emails through third parties such as WikiLeaks, many Americans suspected an effort to help Mr. Trump, who had promised to realign the United States with Russia.
But Mr. Galeotti, the Russian expert, said that, in all his time in Moscow, “I didn’t speak to anyone who thought a Trump presidency was possible.”
Rather, conversation there followed the same polls that dominated the discussion in America, and which all projected a landslide for Mrs. Clinton.
Even as Mr. Putin deemed Mr. Trump “colorful” and suggested they might get along, officials in Moscow “were absolutely working from the assumption that Clinton was going to get it,” Mr. Galeotti said.
This belief may have informed Russia’s actions during the campaign, which a number of analysts still suspect were aimed at weakening, rather then preventing, Mrs. Clinton’s presumedly imminent presidency.
But if Moscow does gain an ally in Mr. Trump, it will lose a foil in Mrs. Clinton — something that has been politically useful for Mr. Putin as his country’s economy has sank and its isolation deepened. (The New York Times)