As The White House tries to put the Flynn disappointment behind them, The New York Times appears to be resurrecting an old story with a new angle to keep the 'blame the Russians' narrative alive. Following FISA court approval (to spy on Trump's campaign), intercepted calls reportedly show "repeated contact" between Trump advisor Paul Manafort and senior Russian intelligence officials... but reveal no collusion.
Intercepted phone calls and phone records show that several aides and allies to President Trump's campaign were in repeated contact with senior Russian intelligence officials, according to the New York Times. As The Hill explains,
Current and former officials that spoke with the Times would not give many details, and it's not clear exactly who, both from the U.S. and Russia, were part of the conversations or what they talked about, including if discussions centered on Trump himself.
Officials told the publication that they have seen no evidence of collusion in regards to hacking or the election.
Three of the four current and former officials who spoke with the Times said the contacts were discovered during the same time that U.S. intelligence agencies were investigating Russia's extensive hacking campaign, later determined to be aimed at helping Trump win the White House.
The Times' sources said Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, was picked up on the calls. Manafort left the campaign after several months as reports swirled about his business ties in Russia and the Ukraine.
The officials would not name any other Trump aides or supporters captured in the conversations.
As a reminder, it was not just Paul Manafort that was involved in FBI probes, but Tony Podesta - the brother of Hillary Clinton's campaign director John Podesta - who had set up secret meetinsg woth Ukraine officials.
Manafort, who has not been charged with any crimes, exclaims To Britain's Telegraph that "this is absurb,"
“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.”
Mr. Manafort added, “It’s not like these people wear badges that say, ‘I’m a Russian intelligence officer.’"
Several of Mr. Trump’s associates, like Mr. Manafort, have done business in Russia, and it is not unusual for American businessmen to come in contact with foreign intelligence officials, sometimes unwittingly, in countries like Russia and Ukraine, where the spy services are deeply embedded in society. Law enforcement officials did not say to what extent the contacts may have been about business.
Finally, buried deep in The New York Times' story - which is sure to run the narrative during tomorrow's media cycle (and already is a hot topic of conjecture on CNN) - the author admits, rather sheepishly that...
The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.
The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation.
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The bottom line here is that the only incremental news is that Manafort knowingly or unknowingly came into contact with Russian intelligence officials during his business dealings but no election-collusion was discovered. We leave it to Ari Fleischer to sum it all up perfectly...
Why isn't the headline: "Officials Say No Evidence of Cooperation Betw Trump campaign and Russia"- as story states. https://t.co/8WleU06Tig
— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) February 15, 2017