It didn’t take long for us to learn whether or not the resignation of Michael Flynn would be the closing chapter on the question of Trump’s ties to Russia or the opening salvo. Last night the NYT came out with this little bombshell:
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.
The saga continues.
It is important to to note what this does and doesn’t say. First of all, unlike the revelation about Flynn, these contacts happened DURING the election at the time that Russia was actively involved in efforts to discredit Clinton and support Trump. Secondly, the contacts were specifically with “Russian intelligence officials” – not business interests, media outlets, etc. Those two facts not only fly in the face of the multitude of lies the Trump campaign told denying any contact at all, they beg the question of what so many people with ties to the campaign had to talk about with Russian intelligence officials. But finally, on the question about whether or not there is evidence of cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russia, the answer is: nothing definitive.
Perhaps the most important thing to note here is that the intelligence community continues their leaks about this story. What are they trying to accomplish with this one?
It could be that this leak to the NYT is similar to the one David Ignatius wrote about Flynn’s phone calls with the Russian Ambassador on January 9th. At that point he reported that Flynn had several phone calls with the ambassador on the day Obama announced the Russian sanctions, but no information about the content of the discussions. Was that simply an attempt to send a signal to the Trump administration? If so, might this more recent leak be similar, with more to come?
Another possibility is that the intelligence community sees signs pointing in the direction of cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russia, but doesn’t have the goods to prove it yet. Knowing that they now report to the target of this investigation, they are making it difficult for the administration to shut the inquiry down and/or want to insure that Congress follows up.
The question almost every Senator and Representative is facing right now is whether or not they support a Congressional investigation into this matter. As the evidence mounts, Republicans are being pushed towards crossing that red line about whether or not they will continue to defend the administration on this one. With every leak, it becomes more difficult to avoid facing up to that reality.