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Out like Flynn

Concerns grow amid reports that Trump campaign aides were in frequent contact with Russian officials before Nov. 8 election

Free Press staff, wire reports | 2/17/2017, 4:54 p.m.
President Trump is facing a deepening crisis over the relationship between his aides and Russia, with senior Republicans vowing on ...
Michael Flynn

Free Press wire reports

WASHINGTON

President Trump is facing a deepening crisis over the relationship between his aides and Russia, with senior Republicans vowing on Wednesday to get to the bottom of the matter and Democrats demanding an independent probe.

Amid rising unease among fellow Republicans in Congress less than a month into his presidency, President Trump sought to focus the attention on what he called criminal intelligence leaks about Michael Flynn, his ousted national security adviser.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that phone call records and intercepted calls showed members of President Trump’s presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the Nov. 8 presidential election.

The report came nearly 24 hours after Mr. Flynn was forced to resign over conversations he had last December with the Russian ambassador to Washington and misleading statements about them to Vice President Mike Pence.

The New York Times, citing current and former U.S. officials, said U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they discovered Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee.

The Kremlin has dismissed the reports as groundless.

According to the report, the officials conceded they had “so far” seen no evidence that Trump campaign officials had cooperated with Russian intelligence in Moscow’s efforts to influence the election in the president’s favor. The officials did not explain what the contacts were about.

However, report of the frequent contact last year between Trump campaign aides and associates drew fresh consternation from lawmakers who raised questions about who authorized the contact by campaign aides and later Mr. Flynn with the Russians and what was done with the information.

The president’s Republican critics, including U.S. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, also raised questions, with Sen. McCain describing the situation as a “troubling indication of the dysfunction of the current national security apparatus” in a complex global environment.

“Gen. Flynn’s resignation also raises further questions about the Trump administration’s intentions toward (President Vladimir) Putin’s Russia, including statements by the president suggesting moral equivalence between the United States and Russia despite its invasion of Ukraine, annexation of Crimea, threats to our NATO allies and attempted interference in American elections.”

But comments by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who has been a Trump supporter, increased the pressure on the White House.

Sen. Corker said the Russia issue is threatening President Trump’s agenda on foreign affairs and domestic matters like healthcare and tax policy. He questioned whether the White House would be able to stabilize itself and said Mr. Flynn should testify before Congress.

Democrats doubted that the Justice Department, now led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a pick of President Trump, or the Republican-led Congress will pursue the matter vigorously.

On Wednesday, a growing number of Democrats demanded an independent investigation of possible illegal communications between Mr. Flynn and the Russian government and any efforts by Mr. Flynn or other White House officials to conceal wrongdoing.