Sunday 20 August 2017

Fired Trump aide plotted to bypass security

Flynn discussed back channel for secret Trump-Putin contact

U.S. President Donald Trump, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and former FBI Director James Comey. REUTERS
U.S. President Donald Trump, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and former FBI Director James Comey. REUTERS

Patricia Zengerlie

Fired US National security adviser Michael Flynn discussed establishing a back channel for communication between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin that could be used to bypass national security bureaucracy, it has been reported.

Mr Flynn and other advisers to the president's election campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former US officials familiar with the exchanges said.

Mr Trump reacted angrily to the latest allegations yesterday, tweeting: "With all the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel [SIC] appointed!"

Mr Trump added: "This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!"

The previously undisclosed interactions form part of the record now being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the US presidential election and contacts between Mr Trump's campaign and Russia.

Calls

Six of the previously undisclosed contacts described to Reuters were phone calls between Sergei Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the United States, and Trump advisers, including Mr Flynn, Mr Trump's first national security adviser, three current and former officials said.

Conversations between Mr Flynn and Mr Kislyak accelerated after the November 8 vote as the two discussed establishing a back channel for communication between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could bypass the US national security bureaucracy, which both sides considered hostile to improved relations, four current US officials said.

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In January, the Trump White House initially denied any contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. The White House and advisers to the campaign have since confirmed four meetings between Kislyak and Trump advisers during that time.

The people who described the contacts said they had seen no evidence of wrongdoing or collusion between the campaign and Russia in the communications reviewed so far.

But the disclosure could increase the pressure on Mr Trump and his aides to provide the FBI and Congress with a full account of interactions with Russian officials and others with links to the Kremlin during and immediately after the 2016 election.

The White House did not respond to requests for comment. Mr Flynn's lawyer declined to comment. In Moscow, a Russian foreign ministry official declined to comment on the contacts.

Separately, a spokesman for the Russian embassy in Washington said: "We do not comment on our daily contacts with the local interlocutors."

The 18 calls and electronic messages took place between April and November 2016 as hackers engaged in what US intelligence concluded in January was part of a Kremlin campaign to discredit the vote and influence the outcome of the election in favor of Mr Trump over his Democratic challenger, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

Those discussions focused on mending US-Russian economic relations strained by sanctions imposed on Moscow, cooperating in fighting Islamic State in Syria and containing a more assertive China, the sources said.

Members of the Senate and House intelligence committees have gone to the CIA and the National Security Agency to review transcripts and other documents related to contacts between Trump campaign advisers and associates and Russian officials and others with links to Putin, people with knowledge of those investigations said.

The US Justice Department said on Wednesday it had appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate alleged Russian meddling in the US presidential campaign and possible collusion between Mr Trump's campaign and Russia.

Mr Mueller will now take charge of the FBI investigation that began last July. Mr Trump and his aides have repeatedly denied any collusion with Russia.

Contact

After Vice President Mike Pence and others had denied in January that Trump campaign representatives had any contact with Russian officials, the White House later confirmed that Mr Kislyak had met twice with then-Senator Jeff Sessions, who later became attorney general.

Mr Kislyak also attended an event in April where Trump said he would seek better relations with Russia. Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, also attended that event in Washington.

In addition, Kislyak met with two other Trump campaign advisers in July on the sidelines of the Republican convention.

Mr Trump fired Mr Flynn in February after it became clear he had falsely characterised the nature of phone conversations with Mr Kislyak in late December - after the November 8 election and just after the Obama administration announced new sanctions on Russia.

Mr Flynn offered to testify to Congress in return for immunity from prosecution but his offer was turned down by the House intelligence committee.

Irish Independent

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