Donald Trump tweets denial of ‘this Russian connection nonsense’

President condemns reports his officials in touch with Kremlin during US election

US president Donald Trump 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 election, describing the report as "nonsense".

As the White House struggled to shake off the fall-out from a deepening scandal over the Trump administration's relationship with the Kremlin, the president lashed out on twitter on Wednesday morning.

“This Russian connection nonsense 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. "


‘Real scandal’

He later said that classified information was being given out “like candy”, arguing that the “real scandal” was that classified information was illegally given out by intelligence officials.

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 accounts from 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.

‘A criminal action’

Mr Trump repeated his claim that the reports were linked to Ms Clinton's performance in the presidential election at a news conference with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu later describing the leaks as "a criminal action, a criminal act". "People are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton, " he said.

Mr Trump also defended former national security adviser Michael Flynn – the man who he effectively fired on Monday night by demanding his resignation – as a "great man" who had been treated "very unfairly" by the media.

“Gen Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media, as I call it the fake media, in many cases, and I think it is really a sad thing he was treated so badly,” he said.

Gen 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 United States during which he discussed sanctions.

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 adviser, 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.

Resignation letter

In his resignation letter, Gen Flynn – who had previously been dismissed by president 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 controversy over the alleged links between senior Trump administration officials and Russian intelligence continued on Wednesday, there were growing calls from senior Republicans, as well as Democrats, for a full inquiry into the issue. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said he believed a full investigation was now "highly likely".

Mr Trump was expected to name Vice-Admiral Robert Harward as Mr Flynn's successor. A former deputy-commander of US Central Command, he currently works for a private defence contracting firm, and has served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent