Donald Trump’s claims his team had no contact with Russian authorities during the presidential election campaign have been cast into doubt after Kremlin officials admitted they had been in touch with members of his staff.
The US President has repeatedly denied his team were in contact with representatives of the Russian state during a campaign in which Moscow is accused of using cyber attacks to try to influence the election outcome.
“I have nothing to do with Russia”, Mr Trump said during a White House press conference last week. “To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.”
“How many times do I have to answer this question? Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia.”
That claim, which has been repeated several times by different members of Mr Trump’s team, appears to contradict statements made by senior Russian officials.
Two days after Mr Trump’s election victory, the Russian deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said his government had been in touch with Mr Trump’s advisers during the campaign.
“I cannot say that all, but a number of them maintained contacts with Russian representatives”, Mr Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency. Mr Trump’s team immediately denied the claims.
Then, earlier this month, the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, said he had been in frequent contact during the election campaign with Michael Flynn, a senior adviser to Mr Trump who was appointed as the President’s national security adviser before being forced to resign last week over his links to Russia.
Ms Kislyak told media he had exchanged text messages with Mr Flynn during the campaign and had spoken to him on the phone and in person, according to the Washington Post.
“It’s something all diplomats do”, he said.
In response, Sarah Sanders, a White House spokeswoman, said: “This is a non-story because to the best of our knowledge, no contacts took place, so it’s hard to make a comment on something that never happened.”
The New York Times reported earlier this month that transcripts from conversations intercepted by US agencies revealed contact between Russian officials and a number of unnamed members of Mr Trump’s top team.
It is not unusual for foreign governments to make contact with US presidential candidates in the hope of building relationships and gaining influence with the next occupier of the Oval Office.
What is unusual in Mr Trump’s case is that, at the time conversations are said to have taken place, Russia was being investigated by US security services over suspicions it was involved in hacking Democratic National Committee computers in an attempt to influence the election outcome.
Officials later concluded with “high confidence” that Russia had indeed been behind the hacks.
Mr Trump’s repeated denials of contact between his team and Russia add an extra element of intrigue to a mystery that continues to deepen.
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