Prior to the 2016 presidential election, members of Donald Trump's campaign team and other close associates were repeatedly in contact with senior Russian intelligence officials, four current and former U.S. officials told The New York Times.
Their phone calls were intercepted at around the same time U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies found evidence that Russia, in an attempt to disrupt the election, had hacked the Democratic National Committee. The officials told the Times they have so far not seen any evidence of collusion, but the discovery was worrying because Trump often praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and during a press conference in the summer called on Russia to steal Hillary Clinton's emails.
The officials identified only one person picked up on the phone calls, Paul Manafort, who served for several months as Trump's campaign chairman and had worked as a political consultant in Russia and Ukraine. Manafort told the Times the report was "absurd" and he had "no idea what this is referring to," adding, "It's not like these people wear badges that say, 'I'm a Russian intelligence officer.'" The officials would not reveal to the Times the other Trump associates and aides who made calls, the Russians they spoke with, or the topics of discussion, but did say this is not connected to December calls between Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, in which they discussed sanctions imposed by outgoing President Barack Obama. These conversations led to Flynn's resignation on Monday.