Trump condemns news reports over campaign’s links to Russia

President says information is being illegally given to the New York Times and CNN

US president Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House on Tuesday. “This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign,” he said in an early-morning tweet. Photograph:  Olivier Douliery/Pool via Bloomberg

US president Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House on Tuesday. “This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign,” he said in an early-morning tweet. Photograph: Olivier Douliery/Pool via Bloomberg

 

US president Donald Trump has condemned a New York Times and CNN report claiming that senior Trump administration officials had been in frequent contact with Russian intelligence officials during the US presidential campaign, describing the reports as “nonsense.”

In a series of tweets published on Wednesday morning, Mr Trump criticised the report as an attempt to cover up mistakes made in the Hillary Clinton campaign.

He also lambasted the leaking of information to the media.

“This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign,” he said in an early-morning tweet.

This was followed by a second tweet criticising the leaking of the information. “Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?). Just like Russia. ”

The New York Times and CNN reported late on Tuesday that FBI and law enforcement officials had found evidence that senior officials in the Trump administration had been in frequent contact with Russian intelligence officials during the presidential campaign.

The reports, based on four unnamed sources, named former Trump adviser Paul Manafort, who ran Trump’s campaign before being dismissed in August as one of the senior Trump officials.

Mr Manafort denied the charges.

The reports were published as the Trump administration struggles to shake-off the fall-out from the resignation of the nation’s top security official.

Retired general Michael Flynn was dismissed by Mr Trump late on Monday night, over his failure to inform top White House officials of the nature of his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the US, during which he discussed sanctions.

Crucially, Mr Flynn’s discussions with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak took place late last year before Mr Trump was elected president, in breach of a US law known as the Logan Act which prohibits private citizens from engaging in diplomacy with any foreign power.

Focus

But almost immediately the focus turned to Mr Trump’s role in the affair, after it was confirmed that Mr Trump had been informed of the matter almost three weeks before he dismissed his top security official.

As national security advisor Mr Flynn was privy to the highest level of classified information held by the United States and briefed the president on national security matters each morning.

An early supporter of Mr Trump, he accompanied the president to his Florida retreat this weekend and briefed the president as recently as Monday.

In his resignation letter, Mr Flynn – who had previously been dismissed by the then president Barack Obama as head of the defence intelligence agency – admitted he had “inadvertently briefed the vice-president elect and others with incomplete information” about the phonecalls.

As the scandal deepens, senior Republicans have backed calls from Democrats to open a full-scale probe into the issue, with senate majority leader Mitch McConnell saying that he believes a full investigation is now “highly likely.”

Meanwhile, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu arrived in Washington for a four-day visit, dining with secretary of state Rex Tillerson on Tuesday night.

Mr Netanyahu is due to hold his first face-to-face meeting with Mr Trump as US president today.

After a fractious eight years in US-Israeli relations under the Obama administration, Tel Aviv is hoping for a shift in stance from the Trump administration, despite Mr Trump appearing to row back from some of his pro-Israeli commitments such as a campaign pledge to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.