Barack Obama administration ‘rushed to preserve Russian election hacking evidence’ in last days of presidency

'This situation was serious,' says former President's spokesperson

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Barack Obama’s staff reportedly rushed to preserve evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election in an attempt to leave a trail for investigators to follow later.

In the closing days of the Democrat's term, Obama administration officials allegedly felt they had realised the full-scale of Russian intervention too late and scrambled to document information about Moscow-Trump contact.

US allies, including the UK, had provided information about meetings in European states between associates of Mr Trump and Russian officials in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, the New York Times reported.

American intelligence services had also reportedly intercepted communications between the US President's team and sources within the Kremlin.

Jeff Sessions says under oath that he has not had any contact with Russia

According to the New York Times report – which cited a handful of anonymous official sources – some Obama administration officials feared intelligence about the reported election interference could be covered up or destroyed after the Republican leader took control.

Mr Obama's staff reportedly asked pointed questions at intelligence briefings, knowing the query would be recorded, while intelligence agents rushed to analyse information. These reports were then deliberately classified with the lowest security clearance possible, so they could be seen by a large number of people.

The news emerged amid fresh information that officials in the Trump administration had been ordered by the White House counsel’s office to keep any intelligence of Russian interference intact.

Mr Trump’s White House spokesperson Sean Spicer dismissed the revelations about Mr Obama's staff. “The only new piece of information that has come to light is that political appointees in the Obama administration have sought to create a false narrative to make an excuse for their own defeat in the election," he said.

A spokesperson for Mr Obama, Eric Schultz, said it was standard practice to thoroughly document the information. “This situation was serious," he said.

The discovery comes asAttorney General Jeff Sessions faces pressure to resign over his ties to Russia.

Mr Sessions, an early supporter of Mr Trump, did not disclose two conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to the US during the Presidential campaign.

The 70-year-old was asked at his confirmation hearing in January if “anyone affiliated” with the campaign had been in contact with the Russian government. 

Mr Sessions said: “I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”

Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said on Wednesday night that “there was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer.” 

The scandal about contact between Trump associates’ and Russia has shown little sign of relenting since the CIA, FBI and the director of national intelligence, concluded that Russia intervened in the 2016 in part with the aim of getting Mr Trump into the White House.

The story re-erupted with the forced resignation of national security adviser Lt Gen Michael Flynn, after it emerged he allegedly discussed lifting sanctions on Russia before he entered office.

Pressure on the White House has been mounting, with the FBI conducting a wide-ranging investigation into Russia’s hacking of the election, and is looking at links between Mr Trump’s associated and Moscow.

The Senate Intelligence Committee in early January announced also launched their own inquiries into Russian interference in the election, although it must rely on information obtained by the security services.

The Russian government has maintained it did not interfere in the election and has denied allegations its intelligence agents had been in contact with Mr Trump’s campaign team. 

He and Mr Putin have vowed to repair relations between Russia and the US, which nose-dived after the 2014 annexation of Crimea and have remained rocky partly due to the Kremlin’s backing for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Mr Trump has denied having links to Russia and labelled reports of them “fake news”.

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