Members of Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contact with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, The New York Times reported, citing four current and former American officials.
American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they found evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the U.S. presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, the report said, citing three of the officials.
The intelligence agencies, which sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election, found no evidence of such cooperation, the Times report noted.
The intercepted communications alarmed the American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, according to the report, because of the amount of contact that was occurring while Trump was speaking glowingly about the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Trump's invitation to Russian intelligence services over the summer to find Hillary Clinton's emails and publicize them also raised suspicions.
The officials, who the Times said spoke on condition of anonymity due to the classified nature of the investigation, said the intercepted communications included other Trump associates. Among the campaign members involved were Paul Manafort, who was Trump's campaign chairman last year and had worked as a political consultant in Russia and Ukraine.
Manafort called claims that he spoke with Russian intelligence officers, "absurd," the Times reported.
In January, multiple U.S. intelligence agencies issued a report stating that Russia had interfered in the U.S. presidential elections to help Trump. The report did not state whether Trump's campaign was involved.
The intercepted calls to Russian intelligence are different from the wiretapped conversations between Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser, and Sergey I. Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the United States, the Times noted. In the conversations, which led Trump to relieve Flynn of his duties Monday, Flynn and Kislyak discussed sanctions that the Obama administration imposed on Russia in December.