Trump Campaign Had At Least 18 Undisclosed Contacts With Russians, Sources Say

Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump?s 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 U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters.

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

Six of the previously undisclosed contacts described to Reuters were phone calls between advisers of Russian diplomat Sergey Kislyak and Trump, including Flynn, Trump?s first national security adviser, three current and former officials said.

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

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 to Reuters 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 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. Flynn?s lawyer declined to comment. In Moscow, a Russian foreign ministry official declined to comment on the contacts and referred Reuters to the Trump administration.

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 U.S. intelligence concluded in January was part of a Kremlin campaign to discredit the vote and influence the outcome of the election in favor of Trump over his Democratic challenger, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

Those discussions focused on mending U.S.-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 told Reuters.

The U.S. Justice Department said on Wednesday it had appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential campaign and possible collusion between Trump?s campaign and Russia. Mueller will now take charge of the FBI investigation that began last July. Trump and his aides have repeatedly denied any collusion with Russia.

?IT?S RARE?

In addition to the six phone calls involving Kislyak, the communications described to Reuters involved another 12 calls, emails or text messages between Russian officials or people considered to be close to Putin and Trump campaign advisers.

One of those contacts was by Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch and politician, according to one person with detailed knowledge of the exchange and two others familiar with the issue.

It was not clear with whom Medvedchuk was in contact within the Trump campaign but the themes included U.S.-Russia cooperation, the sources said. Putin is godfather to Medvedchuk?s daughter.

Medvedchuk denied having any contact with anyone in the Trump campaign.

?I am not acquainted with any of Donald Trump?s close associates, therefore no such conversation could have taken place,? he said in an email to Reuters.

In the conversations during the campaign, Russian officials emphasized a pragmatic, business-style approach and stressed to Trump associates that they could make deals by focusing on common economic and other interests and leaving contentious issues aside, the sources said.

Veterans of previous election campaigns said some contact with foreign officials during a campaign was not unusual, but the number of interactions between Trump aides and Russian officials and others with links to Putin was exceptional.

?It?s rare to have that many phone calls to foreign officials, especially to a country we consider an adversary or a hostile power,? Richard Armitage, a Republican and former deputy secretary of state, told Reuters.

 

FLYNN FIRED

Beyond Medvedchuk and Kislyak, the identities of the other Putin-linked participants in the contacts remain classified and the names of Trump advisers other than Flynn have been ?masked? in intelligence reports on the contacts because of legal protections on their privacy as American citizens. However, officials can request that they be revealed for intelligence purposes.

U.S. and allied intelligence and law enforcement agencies routinely monitor communications and movements of Russian officials.

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 Kislyak had met twice with then-Senator Jeff Sessions, who later became attorney general.

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.

Trump fired Flynn in February after it became clear that he had falsely characterized the nature of phone conversations with Kislyak in late December – after the Nov. 8 election and just after the Obama administration announced new sanctions on Russia. Flynn offered to testify to Congress in return for immunity from prosecution but his offer was turned down by the House intelligence committee.

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Days Since News Of An Impeachable Scandal: [0][0][0][1]

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President Trump has found an incredible new way to hold someone hostage while also providing them a robust health plan. Three journalists found major weaknesses in Mar-a-Lago?s networks, which will undoubtedly save countless ambassadors the hassle of actually having to ask Donald Trump about secret material. And Ben Sasse?s parenting book is a real stinker, but no matter, as we?re excited for Bernie Sanders? memoir about what happens when you hand over your house?s means of production to a six-year-old. This is HUFFPOST HILL for Wednesday, May 17th, 2017:

FB-WHY Maybe Trump should interview Ben Nelson just to really piss off Democrats. Ryan J. Reilly: ?President Donald Trump, who fired FBI Director James Comey last week, will interview four candidates to replace him, the White House said Wednesday. White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that Trump will interview four people on Wednesday: current acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe; Frank Keating, the former governor of Oklahoma who previously served as an FBI agent and in high-level positions in the Justice Department; former Sen. Joe Lieberman; and Richard McFeely, who served in the FBI for 24 years before retiring as executive assistant director in 2014.? [HuffPost]

ANNNNNNNND THERE?S THE ?I? WORD – At CAP?s ?ideas conference? yesterday, the biggest applause lines came during Maxine Water?s somewhat (er, very) unfocused rant about President Trump and Russia and the possible need for impeachment.  Jennifer Bendery: ?Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) called for impeaching President Donald Trump from the House floor on Wednesday. ?I rise today, Mr. Speaker, to call for the impeachment of the president of the United States of America for obstruction of justice,? Green began in a sermon-like speech. ?I do not do this for political purposes,? he continued. ?I do it because, Mr. Speaker, there is a belief in this country that no one is above the law. And that includes the president of the United States of America. Mr. Speaker, our democracy is at risk.? ? The Texas Democrat rattled off a website, impeachdonaldtrumpnow.org, and urged people to sign a petition there saying they agree it?s time to begin impeachment proceedings. It is ultimately the public, he said, that will decide whether impeachment happens.? [HuffPost]

@mcalderone: Fox News downplaying/dismissing Comey news in primetime Tues apparently didn?t work with viewers. CNN first in demo; MSNBC first in total.

PRETTY SURE THE ADMINISTRATION IS JUST LAYING THE GROUNDWORK FOR TRUMP TV IN 2021 – Yep, 2021, he?ll likely still be president then. Ryan J. Reilly and Elise Foley: ?President Donald Trump?s administration will appoint Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke ? a Fox News talking head with extreme rhetoric on law enforcement ? to a job in the Department of Homeland Security, Clarke said Wednesday. The sheriff has recently come under scrutiny because four people, including a newborn, died in less than a year inside the jail he?s charged with running. Clarke told 1130 WISN Radio that he will serve as an assistant secretary in the DHS?s Office of Partnership and Engagement and will work as a liaison between law enforcement and state and local governments. That job does not require a Senate confirmation.? [HuffPost]

Like HuffPost Hill? Then order Eliot?s book, The Beltway Bible: A Totally Serious A-Z Guide To Our No-Good, Corrupt, Incompetent, Terrible, Depressing, and Sometimes Hilarious Government

Does somebody keep forwarding you this newsletter? Get your own copy. It?s free! Sign up here. Send tips/stories/photos/events/fundraisers/job movement/juicy miscellanea to eliot@huffpost.com. Follow us on Twitter – @HuffPostHill

WE?RE ALL GOING TO DIE – As a test, Fox News should run ?Donald Trump? on an infinite loop in the news ticker and see if the president ever appears again. Steve Holland and Jeff Mason: ?Besieged by controversy at home, U.S. President Donald rump is under pressure to stick to the script and avoid fresh flare-ups when he embarks this week on his first foreign trip, a nine-day trek to the Middle East and Europe?. National Security Council officials have strategically included Trump?s name in ?as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he?s mentioned,? according to one source, who relayed conversations he had with NSC officials. Trump likes to look at a map of the country involved when he learns about a topic.? [Reuters]

BUT WHO WILL GUARD THE PRESIDENT?S PRECIOUS LITTLE FEELINGS? Paige Lavender: ?President Donald Trump found another opportunity to attack the media during a commencement ceremony at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy on Wednesday?. ?Never ever, ever give up. Things will work out just fine,? Trump said. ?Look at the way I?ve been treated lately, especially by the media.? Trump argued ?no politician in history…has been treated worse or more unfairly? by the media?. The president closed out his speech with one actual piece of advice for the graduates: ?Enjoy your life.?? [HuffPost]

Hmm…has Trump been treated worse than any politician in history? ?Fairness is a pretty interesting topic of conversation to be raising in front of men and women who will one day be jumping into the damn ocean in the middle of hurricanes to rescue people, in the service of an organization whose unofficial motto is, ?You have to go out, but you don?t have to come back.? ? Let?s just think about other presidents. Off the top of my head, here are some people who were treated more unfairly than Donald Trump.? [HuffPost?s Jason Linkins]
CONGRATULATIONS TO THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ON LIVING IN A PSYCHOLOGICAL CAGE – We hope you one day free yourself from the figurative prison your life has become. Josh Dawsey and Matthew Nussbaum: ?In interviews, multiple White House officials indicated they feel under siege ? unsure who in the intelligence community was leaking, how much damaging information was out there, when the next proverbial shoe would drop and what Trump might say. Staffers shuttled back and forth among West Wing offices debating what to say without divulging confidential material or getting anything wrong. A deflated and exhausted Sean Spicer, who continues to read reports that his job is in jeopardy while he works 12 hours every day in his office, huddled in his office with chief of staff Reince Priebus. There was a pervasive sense, another official said, that ?we are kind of helpless.?? [Politico]

Maybe now Mitch McConnell will do something: ?Interviews with Republicans in and close to the donor community revealed growing worries that Congress has been knocked off kilter by the problems engulfing Trump ? and that it will be enormously challenging to get back on track as the contours of 2018 congressional races begin to take shape?. At a gathering of the Republican Governors Association at a Trump resort in the Miami area this week, donors were also anxious, consumed by the feeling that ?it?s going to be impossible to get anything done,? said one Republican operative in attendance. ?They?re flipping out like everybody else, of course they are,? said the operative, going on to add, ?People are in meltdown mode.?? [McClatchy?s Katie Glueck]

¡Encerrarlos! ?Deportation officers arrested more than 41,000 people on civil immigration charges between the Monday after Trump?s inauguration and his 100th day in office, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE deportation officers arrested about 30,000 people in roughly the same period in 2016. Arrests of noncriminals more than doubled during the same period ? from about 4,200 in 2016 to more than 10,800 in 2017, according to ICE. They made up about one-quarter of the total arrests.? [HuffPost?s Elise Foley]

GOP STREAMLINING GOVERNMENT BY MAKING IT SUPER-INEFFICIENT – Alexander C. Kaufman: ?Shrouded by the political chaos surrounding the White House, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved the Regulatory Accountability Act that would impose dozens of new requirements on the government rule-making process?. The act proposes adding 53 requirements to the regulatory process, including a mandate that all rules with an economic impact exceeding $110 million go through a lengthy review. The bill would, for example, make it harder for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to update meat and poultry safety standards, the Food and Drug Administration to issue new rules on opioids and the Mine Safety and Health Association to upgrade protections for workers without clearing high hurdles set by deep-pocketed meat, pharmaceutical and mining companies.? [HuffPost]

DIVERSIFY YO BONDS, GREG GIANFORTE – Alexander C. Kaufman: ?A Republican congressional candidate owns a stake in a French-Swiss cement company accused of making payments to the Islamic State militant group in Syria, according to financial disclosures HuffPost reviewed. Greg Gianforte, the millionaire GOP contender for Montana?s open seat in the House, reported owning $47,066 worth of shares in LafargeHolcim as recently as December?. LafargeHolcim operated a factory in the north Syrian town of Kobane for three years after civil war broke out and most foreign companies fled. The company evacuated foreign employees in 2012, but kept the business going with local workers until ISIS fighters seized the factory two years later. Payments made to local armed groups to secure the factory may have unwittingly ended up in ISIS coffers, French newspaper Le Monde reported last year. CEO Eric Olsen resigned from the firm last month.? [HuffPost]

BORIS IS INVINCEEEEBLE – Are the weaknesses detailed below that all the captcha prompts spell out ?DONALD TRUMP?? Jeff Larson, Surya Mattu, and Julia Angwin:  ?We parked a 17-foot motor boat in a lagoon about 800 feet from the back lawn of the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, and pointed a two-foot wireless antenna that resembled a potato gun toward the club. Within a minute, we spotted three weakly encrypted Wi-Fi networks. We could have hacked them in less than five minutes, but we refrained?. We also visited two of President Donald Trump?s other family-run retreats, the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., and a golf club in Sterling, Va. Our inspections found weak and open Wi-Fi networks, wireless printers without passwords, servers with outdated and vulnerable software, and unencrypted login pages to back-end databases containing sensitive information.? [Gizmodo/ProPublica]

SASSE-PLAINING – Free idea: this book, but replacing every reference to ?millennials? with ?my archnemesis, Herb Kohl.? Alyssa Rosenberg: ?It says a lot about how engaging Sen. Ben Sasse?s Twitter feed is, and how novel it seemed that a politician would write what appeared to be a parenting book rather than a bland campaign volume, that I requested a copy of the Nebraska Republican?s new book, ?The Vanishing American Adult.? And I truly hoped to be able to report that it was good: Any sign that an American politician is capable of thinking in new ways or speaking in new terms is manna in the desert, and as you all know, it?s getting grim out there. So it?s with regret that I inform you that ?The Vanishing American Adult? is a reminder that there is more than one way for a politician to write a bad book, as well as an illustration of the limits of Sasse?s mildly maverick brand.? [WaPo]

BECAUSE YOU?VE READ THIS FAR – Here?s a lion being freaked out by bubbles.

MAYBE THEY WERE AFRAID THE SWAMP WOULD BE DRAINED – Fear not, little waterfowl. Dana Hedgpeth: ?A dozen baby ducks and their mother were rescued Tuesday afternoon from a 6th floor balcony of a Library of Congress building with the help of the U.S. Capitol Police. Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden posted a picture of the ducklings on Twitter. On Tuesday, around 4 p.m., a Library of Congress staffer noticed the ducklings and their mother go past a window of the 6th floor balcony of the James Madison Memorial Building, which is one of the library?s facilities, said Gail Osterberg, the library?s director of communications. There is no water around, so it seemed a bit ?out of the ordinary,? said Osterberg.? [WaPo]

COMFORT FOOD

– Apple really doesn?t want its employees to procreate.

– The 12,000-calorie diet of the world?s strongest man.

– Yoda tells a joke.

TWITTERAMA

Got something to add? Send tips/quotes/stories/photos/events/fundraisers/job movement/juicy miscellanea to Eliot Nelson (eliot@huffpost.com)

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Anthony Bourdain And Girlfriend Asia Argento Make It Instagram Official

Imagine how great date night would be if Anthony Bourdain was your boyfriend and cooked for you on the regular. Actress Asia Argento doesn?t have to imagine ? it?s her life. 

On Tuesday, the recently divorced Bourdain and Argento made their relationship Instagram official with his-and-her versions of the same pic on their personal accounts. The pair have been rumored to be dating since February.

?Another Green World photo by @Blue.lou,? Bourdan?s caption reads under a pic of the equally tatted couple. 

Another Green World photo by @Blue.lou

A post shared by anthonybourdain (@anthonybourdain) on

Back in September 2016, the ?Parts Unknown? host split from his wife Ottavia Busia, a mixed martial arts fighter. The pair were married in 2007 and have a 9-year-old daughter together. (This was Bourdain?s second divorce; he was married to first wife Nancy Putkoski for two decades.) 

Argento, 41, is best known in the states for her role as Yelena in the 2002 action film ?xXx.? She won the David di Donatello award (Italy?s version of an Oscar) in 1994 and 1996 for ?Perdiamoci di vista? and ?Campagna di viaggio.? The actress has two daughters of her own. 

In February, the 60-year-old celeb chef and the Italian actress were photographed hand-in-hand in Rome. And Bourdain gave major props to Argento for her help on the Rome episode of ?Parts Unknown.? In the episode, which aired in December, the two share plates of pasta, watch a boxing match and go grocery shopping. 

?The episode would not have been possible ? or be anything like it is without the truly magnificent Asia Argento,? Bourdain wrote in December. ?She?s spent a lifetime in films ? mostly in front of the cameras, but also ? and quite notably ? behind, directing most recently the remarkable and beautiful ?Incompresa (Misunderstood).??

Sounds like someone?s smitten. 

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Nick And Aaron Carter’s Father, Robert Carter, Dead At 65

Robert Carter, father to singers Nick and Aaron Carter, has died, TMZ reports. He was 65. 

Robert, also known as Bob, died on Tuesday night in Florida, according to sources who spoke to TMZ. Details surrounding his death are sparse, but the outlet reports Aaron posted a tweet (which has since been deleted) about his father being found unconscious. 

On Wednesday afternoon, Nick confirmed the sad news on Twitter and asked followers to respect his family?s privacy at this time. 

Aaron also shared a tweet, writing, ?I am in shock and I loved my dad so much.? 

Robert made appearances on the family?s reality show, ?House of Carters,? which also feature Nick and Aaron?s three other siblings, Leslie, Angel and Bobbie. His death comes about five years after their sister Leslie tragically died at the age of 25

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Homeland Security Secretary Tells Graduates To ‘Tell The Truth,’ With Trump Sitting Next To Him

Introducing President Donald Trump at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on Wednesday advised the school?s graduates to ?tell the truth,? and praised the U.S. as ?first and foremost a nation of laws.?

?Tell the truth to your seniors, even though it?s uncomfortable, even though they may not want to hear it,? Kelly said, with Trump, the commencement speaker, sitting next to him on stage. ?They deserve that. Tell the truth.?

The commencement address was Trump?s first public appearance since Tuesday?s extraordinary reports that he asked then-FBI director James Comey in February to end his investigation into former national security adviser Mike Flynn?s contacts with Russian officials. Trump fired Comey last week.

The White House has denied that Trump pushed Comey to end the probe.

During the speech, Trump did not directly discuss the reports and mostly stuck to a prepared script.

But while instructing the graduates on overcoming adversity, Trump lashed out at  the media.

?Never, ever, ever give up. Things will work out just fine. Look at the way I?ve been treated lately, especially by the media,? he said. ?No other politician in history has been treated worse or more unfairly. Adversity makes you stronger.?

He also boasted about his election victory and lauded his achievements as president, ending the speech by advising students to ?enjoy your life.?

 White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer hesitated to answer when asked by a reporter on Tuesday whether it was acceptable for public officials to lie.

?Um. The reason I?m going to have hedging on this is that I?m just thinking,? he said. ?Mentally, I?m going through every position in the United States government. In theory, if you were an operative of some sort. Uh, there are cases in which ? yeah, if it?s a public official, then no.?

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