The White House battled on Tuesday to insulate Donald Trump from a scandal over his top aide’s contacts with Russia, as it emerged that the president was aware of the problem for weeks before acting.
With calls for an independent investigation gathering pace, the White House admitted that Trump was told three weeks ago that national security advisor Michael Flynn may have misled colleagues about his Kremlin contacts.
The retired three-star general and former head of US defence intelligence initially denied discussing sanctions strategy with Russia’s ambassador Sergey Kislyak before taking office.
That may have breached US law on negotiating with foreign powers, and at minimum was a significant break with the norm that incoming administrations accept the US has “one government at a time.” Flynn was asked to resign on Monday, after what the White House said were weeks of internal investigation that turned up no evidence of wrongdoing but “eroded” trust.
Law enforcement and intelligence agents intercepted calls and obtained phone records showing that members of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other aides had repeated contacts with top Russian intelligence officials in the year that preceded the November 8 presidential election, The New York Times reported.
After finding evidence that Russia was seeking to disrupt the election, US intelligence agencies tried to determine whether the Trump campaign was cooperating with Moscow on hacking and other related efforts, according to the Times. However, the newspaper said, the current and former US officials it cited have not yet found evidence of such collusion.
Paul Manafort, a former Trump advisor who was among those campaign officials picked up on the calls, dismissed the claims as “absurd” in an interview with the Times.
WASHINGTON AFP/ Feb15, 2017