"I find it hard to believe General Flynn would just go rogue," Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) stated on CNN. He was right not to believe it. Contrary to what Sean Spicer told the press, members of the Trump campaign, including Paul Manafort, were reportedly in direct and repeated contact with Russia.
We knew that Russia, a hostile foreign power, committed what some call "acts of war" against the United States during the 2016 election, subverting the will of the U.S. electorate by meddling in the election to help Donald Trump win. We even knew that Trump encouraged the behavior.
But we now know that it was not just Flynn.
A new bombshell report from the New York Times reveals that members of the Trump campaign were in direct and repeated contact with the Russian government:
Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.
American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time that they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.
The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation.
But the intercepts alarmed American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in part because of the amount of contact that was occurring while Mr. Trump was speaking glowingly about the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin. At one point last summer, Mr. Trump said at a campaign event that he hoped Russian intelligence services had stolen Hillary Clinton’s emails and would make them public.
The officials said the intercepted communications were not limited to Trump campaign officials, and included other associates of Mr. Trump. On the Russian side, the contacts also included members of the Russian government outside of the intelligence services, the officials said. All of the current and former officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the continuing investigation is classified.
The report confirms that Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was among the members of Trump's campaign who were in direct contact with Russian officials:
The officials said that one of the advisers picked up on the calls was Paul Manafort, who was Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman for several months last year and had worked as a political consultant in Russia and Ukraine. The officials declined to identify the other Trump associates on the calls.
This new report belies White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's previous denials of contact between the Trump campaign and Russia during the election:
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) February 14, 2017
KARL: Back in January, the president said that nobody in his campaign had been in touch with the Russians. Now, today, can you still say definitively that nobody on the Trump campaign, not even General Flynn, had any contact with the Russians before the election?
SPICER: My understanding is that, what General Flynn has now expressed is that during the transition period — well, we were very clear that during the transition period, he did speak with the ambassador —
KARL: I'm talking about during the campaign.
SPICER: I don't have any — there's nothing that would conclude — that anything different has changed with respect to that time period.
The White House did not immediately respond to the Times' request for comment, but Democrats are quickly calling for accountability:
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.
— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) February 15, 2017
This is not a Democratic or Republican issue- the integrity of our democracy is at stake. This requires an independent investigation. https://t.co/zG5bQWe8JO
— Senator Bob Casey (@SenBobCasey) February 15, 2017
The time for politics is over. Republicans must join this call. Our Republic is indeed at stake.