Report: Trump transition team ordered to save materials on Russia, Ukraine

WASHINGTON, June 16 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump's transition team has been ordered to preserve materials related to ongoing investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, the New York Times reported on Friday, as Trump again assailed the probes.

Citing a memo from the general counsel's office of Trump's transition team, the Times said former members were given the order on Thursday for any information involving Russia or Ukraine in the latest sign of the investigations' expanding reach.

The memo comes as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence's office said he had hired a lawyer, known for defending government officials in high-profile investigations, to help him with the probes into the alleged Russian interference and possible ties to the Trump campaign.

RELATED: Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations

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Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations

Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort signed on as Donald Trump's campaign manager in March 2016. A longtime Republican strategist and beltway operative, Manafort had previously served as an adviser to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich -- a pro-Russia leader who was violently ousted in 2014. Manafort resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 amid questions over his lobbying history in Ukraine for an administration supportive of Russia. The former campaign manager reportedly remained in Trump's circle during the post-election transition period.

Michael Flynn

Gen. Michael Flynn was named President Trump's national security adviser in November of 2016. Flynn reportedly met and spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, at one point discussing sanctions. Flynn originally told Vice President Pence he did not discuss sanctions -- a point the Department of Justice said made the national security adviser subject to blackmail. Flynn resigned from his position in February.

Sergey Kislyak

Outgoing Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak is the Russian official U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions -- communication Sessions denied during his Senate committee hearing testimony.

Roger Stone

Stone is a longtime Republican political consultant who served as a campaign adviser to Trump who continued to talk with the then-GOP candidate after stepping away from his adviser role. Stone claimed last year that he had knowledge of the planned WikiLeaks release of emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Stone recently admitted to speaking via direct message with "Guccifer 2.0" -- an online entity U.S. officials believe is tied to Russia. Stone says the correspondence was “completely innocuous.”

Jeff Sessions

Former U.S. senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama joined Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser in February 2016. Sessions was nominated to be U.S. attorney general by President Trump and was then confirmed by the Senate. Reports then emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Sergey Kislyak while he was senator -- a fact that he left out of his Senate hearing testimony. Instead, he said in writing that he had not communicated with any Russian officials during the campaign season. Sessions defended himself saying he had spoken with Kislyak specifically in a senate capacity.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

The American intelligence community accused Putin in Jan. 2017 of ordering a campaign to undermine trust in the American electoral process, developing a clear preference for Trump as president. "We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the report read.

James Comey

Comey publicly confirmed in March an FBI inquiry into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. “The F.B.I., as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election,” Comey stated.

Carter Page

Page worked for Merrill Lynch as an investment banker out of their Moscow office for three years before joining Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser. During his time with Merrill Lynch, Page advised transactions for two major Russian entities. Page has called Washington "hypocritical" for focusing on corruption and democratization in addressing U.S. relations with Russia. While Page is someone Trump camp has seemingly tried to distance itself from, Page recently said he has made frequent visits to Trump Tower.

J.D. Gordon

Before Gordon joined the Trump campaign as a national security adviser in March 2016, he served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 through 2009. Like others involved in Trump-Russia allegations, Gordon met with ambassador Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention, but has since denied any wrongdoing in their conversation. He advocated for and worked to revise the RNC language on and position toward Ukraine relations, so it was more friendly toward Russia's dealings in the country.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller and several congressional panels are investigating the Russia issue, which has cast a shadow over the early months of Trump's presidency.

The Washington Post on Wednesday reported that Mueller is investigating the Republican president for possible obstruction of justice.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow interfered in last year's presidential campaign to try to tilt the vote in Trump's favor.

Moscow has denied any interference and the White House has denied any collusion. Trump has repeatedly complained about the probe, saying Democrats cannot accept his election win.

Trump, who hired his own lawyer last month to represent him regarding probes by the special counsel and congressional committees, continued his harsh criticism of the investigations in series of tweets on Friday.

"After 7 months of investigations & committee hearings about my 'collusion with the Russians,' nobody has been able to show any proof. Sad!" he wrote in one post.

PENCE HIRES LAWYER

Pence hired Richard Cullen, chairman of law firm McGuireWoods, to help him respond to inquiries from Mueller, a spokesman said.

Cullen is a former federal prosecutor who has long ties to former FBI Director James Comey. Trump fired Comey on May 9.

Pence had been looking at hiring his own counsel for several weeks, and made his decision earlier this week after interviewing several candidates, his office said. The Washington Post first reported the Cullen hire.

Pence had taken over the transition team from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Pence has seldom addressed the Russia issue, which has overshadowed Trump's efforts to overhaul the healthcare system, cut taxes and boost jobs - priorities that Pence has worked on intensively with Republican lawmakers.

The memo to former transition team members on Thursday also seeks specific information on five people, the Times reported, They include Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager; Rick Gates, Manafort's business partner; Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser; former national security adviser Michael Flynn; and Roger J. Stone Jr., an informal adviser to Mr. Trump.

RELATED: The conspiracy theories of President Trump and his inner circle

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The conspiracy theories of President Trump and his inner circle

Trump and the 'birther' claim

Trump has made remarks on multiple occasions in his past suggesting former President Barack Obama "doesn't have a birth certificate." Nearing the end of his campaign trail, Trump finally admitted in September 2016 that Obama "was born in the United States."

Here is a 2011 excerpt from his statement on the conspiracy theory surrounding the "birther" claim

"He doesn't have a birth certificate, or if he does, there's something on that certificate that is very bad for him. Now, somebody told me -- and I have no idea if this is bad for him or not, but perhaps it would be -- that where it says 'religion,' it might have 'Muslim.' And if you're a Muslim, you don't change your religion, by the way."

Trump and the wiretapping claim

On March 4, the president accused former President Barack Obama of wiretapping the phones at his New York home in Trump Tower in a series of Saturday morning tweets.

"I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!," one tweet read.

FBI Director James Comey later renounced this claim at a rare public House Intelligence Committee hearing.

Trump: China created global warming

On November 6, 2012, Trump tweeted the following:

"The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."

The issues of global warming and climate change have long been proved valid by the science community's vast majority.

Alex Jones' Infowars, Trump tie Sen. Ted Cruz's father to Kennedy assassination

An April 2016 article in Infowars -- a site affiliated with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones -- titled "WAS CRUZ’S FATHER LINKED TO THE JFK ASSASSINATION?" makes the case that Sen. Ted Cruz's father, Rafael Cruz, was linked to Lee Harvey Oswald, the man believed to have killed John F. Kennedy.

In May 2016, Trump brought up an Enquirer story featuring Cruz's father pictured with Oswald, saying, "I mean, what was he doing — what was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death? Before the shooting? It’s horrible."

He brought the storyline up again one day after accepting the Republican presidential nomination in July 2016.

Trump: Obama "founded ISIS"

Trump touted his plan to "bomb the sh*t out of ISIS" many times while on the 2016 campaign stump -- and added to his ISIS rhetoric the claim that then-President Barack Obama "founded ISIS."

Trump outlined this claim in a Florida campaign speech:

"ISIS is honoring President Obama. He’s the founder of ISIS. He founded ISIS. I would say the co-founder would be Crooked Hillary Clinton."

Trump also suggested Obama was sympathetic to terrorists in June of 2016.

Trump suggests Justice Antonin Scalia was assassinated

"It's a horrible topic," Trump said of Justice Scalia's death during a radio interview with conservative host Michael Savage. At this point, Trump was entering a space in which Savage had already called for a Warren Investigation into Scalia's death -- the same type of investigation that looked into JFK's shooting. In that context, Trump continued his remarks, saying, "But they say they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow. I can’t tell you what—I can’t give you an answer. You know, usually I like to give you answers. But I literally just heard it a little while ago. It’s just starting to come out now, as you know, Michael.”

Alex Jones on Hillary Clinton's mental state

On August 4, 2016, Alex Jones' Infowars published a video titled, "The Truth About Hillary's Bizarre Behavior," in which copy reads, "...Hillary’s conduct also strongly indicates she is a sociopath who has a total lack of empathy for other people."

Jones at one point in August 2016 commented on the system in which Trump would continually pick up talking points from his show, saying, "It is surreal to talk about issues here on air, and then word-for-word hear Trump say it two days later."

Trump: 2016 election is "rigged"

Weeks before 2016 Election Day, Trump appeared on FOX News with Sean Hannity, discussing how the election is rigged because of the "1.8 million people" who vote, even though they're dead.

“You have 1.8 million people who are dead, who are registered to vote, Trump said. "And some of them absolutely vote. Now, tell me how they do that.

After he was elected president, Trump also claimed that there was "serious voter fraud" in the 2016 election, and promised a major investigation into such occurrence.

Roger Stone: Chelsea Clinton needed plastic surgery to hide identity of real father

Longtime Trump friend and political adviser Roger Stone details in his book, "The Clintons' War on Women," that Chelsea Clinton needed "four plastic surgeries" to cover up the identity of her real father, who Stone claims is former Associate Attorney General Webb Hubbell.

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Flynn, who was forced out in February, is a subject in investigations by intelligence committees in the House and Senate, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Comey told a Senate panel last week he believed Trump had directed him to drop an agency investigation into Flynn.

Manafort, Page and Stone have also been linked to the Russia investigations.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Eric Beech, Jonathan Landay, John Walcott, Roberta Rampton and Julia Ainsley in Washington, and David Ingram in San Francisco; Writing by Susan Heavey, Arshad Mohammed and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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