Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump's campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters.The previously undisclosed interactions form part of the record now being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and contacts between Trump's campaign and Russia.
Leading members of Team Trump, including the president and vice president, insisted for months that there were no pre-election contacts between the Republican campaign and Russian officials. The official line was that Vladimir Putin's government may have taken steps to help put Trump in the White House, but the candidate and his team weren't talking to Russians while they hatched their illegal scheme.It's been obvious for quite some time that those claims were demonstrably wrong. All kinds of communications between people close to Trump and Russian officials -- during the campaign -- have already been documented.In February, the New York Times reported that "phone records and intercepted calls" prove that Trump campaign officials "had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials." A CNN report added that "high-level advisers" close to Trump were in "constant communication" with Russian officials during the American election season.A Reuters report moves the ball forward today with a specific figure that hasn't been published before.
A third of the communications, according to the report, were calls between Trump advisers, including Flynn, and Sergei Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the United States. After the election, the contacts "accelerated," with Flynn raising the prospect of "back-channel" discussions between Trump and Putin.In case this isn't obvious, let's stress how abnormal this is. "It's rare to have that many phone calls to foreign officials, especially to a country we consider an adversary or a hostile power," Richard Armitage, a Republican and former deputy secretary of state, told Reuters.It's rarer still to be so chatty with an adversary during its attack on our democracy.The same Reuters piece noted that Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch and politician, was also in communications with members of Trump's campaign team. And who's Viktor Medvedchuk? He happens to be one of Vladimir Putin's closest friends.