The New York Times reported that law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted calls and phone records showing Donald Trump's presidential campaign aides, as well as other associates, having repeated contact with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.
The report names four people close to Trump — including Michael Flynn, who recently stepped down as national security adviser — in the FBI's inquiry into links between Trump associates and the Russian government. Officials named Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort as one of the associates on the calls but did not identify anyone else on the calls, the Times reported.
Still, the officials said the FBI has looked into at least two other people close to Trump: Carter Page, a businessman and former foreign policy adviser to the campaign and Roger Stone, a veteran GOP operative.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, told reporters in Moscow on Wednesday that the reports were "absolutely groundless."
"Let us not believe in what media say, for nowadays it is very difficult to tell actual news from fake ones," he said, according to the Russian news agency TASS. "Let us not rely on unidentified sources. These reports are absolutely groundless, not based on any facts," he added.
The FBI inquiry
The National Security Agency first found the communications between Trump associates and Russians during routine foreign surveillance. The discovery came around the time law enforcement and intelligence agencies were investigating allegations that Russia tried to interfere with the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three officials said to the Times.
The FBI asked the NSA to collect more information and examine previously intercepted communications. Officials did not disclose the nature of the calls or which Russian intelligence officials were involved. They did say that until now they have found no evidence of Trump campaign officials or other associates colluding with Russians on hacking or other plots to interfere with the election.
The White House didn't respond to the Times' request for comment. The FBI declined to comment.
CNN reported that both Trump and former President Barack Obama were briefed on communication between suspected Russian operatives and Trump officials.
The Times reported that officials did not disclose the nature of the calls and how many of Trump's advisers had been in contact with the Russians.
Manafort calls account 'absurd'
The only adviser identified on a call was Manafort, who had worked as a political consultant in Russia and Ukraine. He resigned as campaign chairman in August amid reports of ties to Pro-Russian elements in Ukraine.
When asked by the Times, Manafort denied the accounts and called them "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," he told the Times.
The others named in the Times report denied having any inappropriate contact with Russians.
Flynn's alleged involvement comes amid his resignation over misleading Vice President Pence about his contacts with Russia. The Times says the communication intercepted are different than the wiretapped conversations last year between Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak that revealed they discussed sanctions the Obama administration imposed in December.
(© 2017 USA TODAY)