Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C.
Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

The renewed relevance of Russia’s alleged talks with Team Trump

The new, unverified allegations about Donald Trump and Russia create a controversy with several interconnected parts, but more questions than answers. At this point, we don’t yet know what’s true and what’s not, but we do know U.S. intelligence agencies made President Obama and the president-elect aware of the allegations in briefing materials last week.

There’s one thread from the CNN report, however, that I’m especially eager to pull on.
The two-page synopsis also included allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government, according to two national security officials.
This detail, like everything else that’s emerged since yesterday afternoon, has not yet been substantiated or verified. But it raises a question in need of an answer.

On Nov. 10, just two days after the American Election Day, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said “there were contacts” between the Russian government and Trump’s campaign team before the U.S. presidential election. In fact, Ryabkov said “quite a few” members of Trump’s team had been “staying in touch with Russian representatives” before Americans cast their ballots.

The Republican’s transition team has insisted that these conversations never happened. Kellyanne Conway was especially emphatic when asked about possible, pre-election communications between the campaign and Moscow. “Absolutely not,” she told CBS News’ John Dickerson in December. She added the conversations “never happened” and any suggestions to the contrary “undermine our democracy.”

This angle to the broader controversy quietly faded – replaced with other revelations – but the new reporting should return the question to the fore. Did the pre-election communications happen or not?

Either Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister is telling the truth or the Trump transition team is. They can’t both be right.