In a chaotic news cycle moving so fast that a story risks being outdated as soon as it’s published, on Thursday morning Reuters reported that members of the Trump campaign had “at least 18 calls and emails” with Russian officials during the final seven months of the 2016 election. The report is the latest revelation in the slow-motion car crash unfurling at the White House, after Donald Trump reportedly shared highly classified information with Russian officials and allegedly pressured former FBI director James Comey to drop an investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s ties with Russia.
Reuters reports that after the election, Flynn, who was forced to resign for misleading officials about the nature of his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, was trying to establish a “back channel for communication between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could bypass the U.S. national security bureaucracy, which both sides considered hostile to improved relations.” They had six phone calls before the election, and Reuters reports that the Trump campaign had “another 12 calls, emails or text messages between Russian officials or people considered to be close to Putin and Trump campaign advisers.”
The conversations took place as US intelligence agencies found evidence that Russia interfered with the US election to support Trump. The officials told Reuters they saw no evidence of collusion, however. The previously undisclosed communication could become a subject of inquiry as the FBI and Congress continue to investigate the Trump administration’s increasingly troubling links to Russia.
Former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, a Republican who served under the Bush administration and voted for Hillary Clinton, told Reuters, “It’s rare to have that many phone calls to foreign officials, especially to a country we consider an adversary or a hostile power.”
The news comes days after the New York Times reported that former FBI Director James Comey wrote a memo detailing a directive from Trump to end the investigation on Flynn’s ties to Russia. Trump fired Comey earlier in May, admitting to NBC’s Lester Holt that it was because of, at least in part, “the Russia thing.” The day after Comey’s firing, on May 10, Trump also reportedly shared highly classified intel with Kislyak and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. After the White House called the reports “false,” Trump confirmed he shared intel with Russia via Twitter. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster has since said the information Trump shared was “wholly acceptable,” but has not confirmed that it was classified. In a leaked recording from 2016, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he thinks Vladimir Putin “pays” Trump. McCarthy said the comments were a joke, but the Department of Justice, which has since appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to head the Russia investigation, seems to be less amused.