President Donald Trump has responded to claims of repeated contact between his team and Russian intelligence officials during the 2016 presidential election election, calling the accusations “conspiracy theories” and “an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign.”
He also slammed the apparent leaks from the intelligence community, tweeting that classified information was being given out ‘like candy.’
Current and former American officials told The New York Times in a report published Tuesday that law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee. CNN published a similar report later in the day.
Trump responded to the accusations in a series of tweets on Wednesday morning, calling the news “conspiracy theories” being pushed by “fake news media” before praising Fox News’ weekday morning show.
The 70-year-old business mogul also fired shots at the Times and the Washington Post, which has also published numerous reports citing unnamed security sources.
In another tweet, he wrote, “This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign.”
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Among several senior Trump advisers regularly communicating with Russian nationals were then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former top adviser Michael Flynn, according to the reports in the Times and CNN.
Flynn, who was Trump’s national security adviser, was forced to resign on Monday following reports that he gave “incomplete information” to Vice President Mike Pence about conversations he had with Moscow’s ambassador in Washington.
Flynn repeatedly denied that he discussed sanctions imposed by former President Barack Obama against Russia for election meddling with the ambassador. However, call transcripts show that Flynn may have even suggested the incoming Trump administration would be open to lifting the sanctions.
Manafort denied any contacts with Russian officials. He told The New York Times on Tuesday, “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.”
Numerous members of the Senate and Congress spoke out against Trump following the allegations, some calling anyone found to have worked with Russian hackers or intelligence services to be tried for treason.
“Any Americans who conspired w/ the Russian hackers should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, no matter how high up the trail goes,” tweeted Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro.
Pennsylvania Congressman Brendan Boyle wrote, “If any US citizen conspired with enemy foreign agents to subvert US democracy then that person committed treason.”
Although it is not unusual for communications between campaign staff and representatives of foreign governments to occur, the contact stood out to investigators due to the high frequency and level of the Trump advisers involved, according to the Times.