Trump Says He Knows of No Contacts With Russia by Campaign AidesBy
President assails media reports on Russia links as ‘a ruse’
Trump defends ousted security aide Flynn as ‘doing his job’
President Donald Trump said he isn’t aware of any contacts between his campaign aides and Russian intelligence officials, calling reports to the contrary "a ruse" and "fake news."
"The whole Russia thing -- that’s a ruse," Trump said Thursday at a news conference at the White House. "I didn’t do anything for Russia."
Trump addressed a controversy that has plunged his administration into turmoil, and he insisted that his government is a "fine-tuned machine." U.S. intelligence agencies and the FBI are conducting multiple investigations into contacts between his advisers and associates and Russian officials during and after the 2016 campaign, according to four national security officials.
The investigations predate Trump’s dismissal of retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as his national security adviser on Monday. Trump defended Flynn at the press conference, saying the retired army general did nothing wrong.
Trump said Flynn "was just doing his job" when the aide spoke with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, in December about sanctions Obama had imposed the same day for the country’s interference in the U.S. election. After Obama announced the sanctions, Russian officials initially vowed to retaliate then unexpectedly reversed course.
Flynn resigned Monday amid revelations that he misled administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, over his contact with the Russian envoy.
"I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence, very simple," the president said.
Trump’s decision to ask for Flynn’s resignation followed news reports that the aide had discussed sanctions levied against Russia in a conversation with Kislyak, despite insisting he had not done so. White House lawyers told the president in late January about the nature of the conversation, which was intercepted by U.S. intelligence.
The revelations surrounding Flynn -- and an ensuing report from the New York Times that despite public denials, Trump campaign aides and associates had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence officials before his election -- have prompted bipartisan calls for broader investigations.
“I think there needs to be fulsome investigation on all angles relative to nefarious activities that were taking place with Russia, beginning in March but even going back before that time,” Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters on Tuesday.
The controversy intensified when the New York Times reported late Tuesday that Trump campaign aides and associates “had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before” the November 2016 election, citing four current and former U.S. officials the newspaper didn’t identify. The Times reported that there’s been no evidence uncovered that Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian attempts to influence the election.