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Team Trump's pre-election Russian contacts draw fresh scrutiny

"Did any adviser or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians," Mike Pence was asked in January. "Of course not," he replied.
Image: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence departs a healthcare meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence departs a healthcare meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

There's no shortage of interesting angles to the latest reports about Donald Trump Jr. and his chat with a Kremlin-linked lawyer during the campaign, but as TPM noted, the revelations have renewed interest in "the Trump administration's denials that any such meetings took place."

"Did any adviser or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election?" CBS's John Dickerson asked then Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Jan. 15."Of course not," Pence replied.

The specific wording of the question doesn't do Pence any favors: a Russian lawyer trying to meddle in the election had a private chat with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort -- because the campaign thought the lawyer would dish dirt on Hillary Clinton.

We now know, of course, that this is one of several important falsehoods the vice president has peddled since the election, including a variety of bogus claims related to the Trump-Russia scandal.

But what sometimes gets lost in the shuffle is the fact that Pence wasn't the only one denying the interactions between the campaign and the foreign adversary trying to help the campaign.

As we discussed in February, when reports first surfaced that Russia was in talks with Team Trump during Russia’s election crimes, the response from the Republican camp was categorical: those communications simply did not happen. Even after Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov acknowledged that “there were contacts” between the Russian government and Trump’s campaign team ahead of Nov. 8, Team Trump kept insisting otherwise.Indeed, Trump and his aides left no wiggle room on the subject. Kellyanne Conway, asked about the possibility of these communications between the Republican campaign and Russians, said, “Absolutely not.” She added the conversations “never happened” and any suggestions to the contrary “undermine our democracy.”At a pre-inaugural press conference, Donald Trump himself said no one from his team was in contact with Russians during the campaign. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer also denied the communications.

I certainly understand the rationale behind the denials: Trump World didn't think it would get caught. The fact that Russians launched an unprecedented attack on the American political system -- in part because Putin's government wanted to put Trump in power -- was itself scandalous, and if members of Team Trump admitted they were in touch with the Russians during the attack, it'd look pretty bad.

But we know that's what happened. Top members of the president's team really were in communications with Russian nationals during Russia's election scheme, and the categorical denials from Trump, Pence, and others were, at a minimum, wrong.

To date, there's been no explanation from Trump or anyone from his team about why they issued bogus denials about pre-election Russian contacts.