Clinton officials denounce alleged Trump campaign officials' contacts with Russia
Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign spokesman Tuesday night called the information in a New York Times report — which said intercepted phone calls showed that officials of Donald Trump's campaign had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence officials — a "colossal scandal."
Brian Fallon, the Clinton campaign's press secretary, said on Twitter of the report posted online Tuesday night by The New York Times: "Everything we suspected during the campaign is proving true. This is a colossal scandal."
The Times, citing four current and former U.S. officials, reported that the contacts were in the year before the November election. NBC News has not confirmed the details in the report.
Clinton's campaign manager, Robby Mook, said on Twitter: "I'd like the FBI to explain why they sent a letter about Clinton but not this," apparently referring to FBI Director James Comey's letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee shortly before the election about emails discovered on a laptop used by former Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-New York.
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The Times reported that there is no evidence that there was any cooperation between the Trump campaign and the Russians. CNN also reported on the alleged communications.
The Times reported that "American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time that they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee," citing three unnamed officials.
The Times reported that "the officials said that one of the advisers picked up on the calls was Paul Manafort," Trump's campaign chairman for several months last year, who had worked as a political consultant in Russia and Ukraine.
The Times said the officials wouldn't name any other Trump associates on the calls.
In an interview with The Times, Manafort said: "This is absurd."
"I have no idea what this is referring to. I have never knowingly spoken to Russian intelligence officers, and I have never been involved with anything to do with the Russian government or the Putin administration or any other issues under investigation today," Manafort told The Times.
"It's not like these people wear badges that say, 'I'm a Russian intelligence officer,'" he added, according to the Times.
U.S. intelligence officials have said Russia was suspected of being involved in cyber-attacks on Democratic Party institutions during the election. A government intelligence report released in January concluded that the Russian campaign evolved into an attempt to help Trump win.
NBC News has reported that U.S. intelligence officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin became personally involved. Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement.
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said on MSNBC-TV on Tuesday night that he was not surprised by the Times report. He said he has been trying to get information about possible connection between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government without much cooperation from the Republican chairman of the committee.
"It is very alarming," Cummings told MSNBC's Joy-Ann Reid.
The Times report comes a day after Trump's national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, resigned over telephone calls he shared with Russia's ambassador to the United States in December — before Trump took office.
Among the topics discussed were U.S. sanctions imposed by the administration of President Barack Obama against Moscow for its alleged role in the 2016 presidential election, a senior intelligence official told NBC News.
At a White House press briefing earlier Tuesday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about Trump's denial in January that anyone in his campaign had been in touch with the Russians during the campaign, and whether Spicer could say that nobody on the campaign had any contacts with the Russians before the election.
"There's nothing that would conclude me that anything different has changed with respect to that time period," Spicer said.