Sun, Jan 15, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Trump adviser and Russian diplomat in frequent contact

AP, WASHINGTON

Russia’s ambassador and US president-elect Donald Trump’s national security adviser have been in frequent contact in recent weeks, including on the day that the administration of US President Barack Obama hit Moscow with sanctions in retaliation for election-related hacking, a senior US official said.

After initially denying that former US Defense Intelligence Agency director Michael Flynn and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak spoke on Dec. 29, a Trump official late on Friday said that the transition team was aware of one call on the day Obama imposed sanctions.

It is not unusual for incoming administrations to have discussions with foreign governments before taking office, but repeated contacts just as Obama imposed sanctions would raise questions about whether Trump’s team discussed — or even helped shape — Russia’s response.

Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly did not retaliate against the US for the move, a decision Trump quickly praised.

More broadly, Flynn’s contact with the Russian ambassador suggests the incoming administration has already begun to lay the groundwork for its promised closer relationship with Moscow. That effort appears to be moving ahead, even as many in Washington, including US Republicans, have expressed outrage over intelligence officials’ assessment that Putin launched a hacking operation aimed at meddling in the US election to benefit Trump.

In an interview published on Friday evening by the Wall Street Journal, Trump said that he might do away with Obama’s sanctions if Russia works with the US on battling terrorists and achieving other goals.

“If Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions?” he asked.

Questions about Trump’s friendly posture toward Russia have deepened since the election, as he has dismissed US intelligence agencies’ assertions about Russia’s role in the hacking of Democratic groups.

In briefing Trump on their findings, intelligence officials also presented the president-elect with unsubstantiated claims that Russia had amassed compromising personal and financial allegations about him, according to a separate US official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, because the official was not allowed to publicly discuss the matter.

The US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence late on Friday announced that it would investigate possible contacts between Russia and people associated with US political campaigns as part of a broader investigation into Moscow’s meddling in last year’s presidential election.

Flynn’s own ties with Russia have worried some Republicans who are more skeptical of the Kremlin than Trump appears to be. After leaving his position as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, Flynn made appearances on RT, a state-run Russian TV network.

In 2015, he was paid to attend an RT gala in Moscow, where he sat next to Putin.

As national security adviser, Flynn will work in the West Wing close to the Oval Office and will have frequent access to Trump. Unlike Trump’s nominees to lead the Pentagon, US Department of State and other national security agencies, Flynn’s post does not require Senate confirmation.

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