Donald Trump’s national security adviser has been in regular contact with Russia’s ambassador to the US, it emerged on Friday, as the controversy around Trump’s ties to Russia showed no signs of abating.
The White House is aware of phone calls between retired lieutenant-general Michael Flynn and ambassador Sergey Kislyak, a senior US official told the Associated Press.
It is not clear how the current administration learned of the contacts, although the AP noted that US monitoring of Russian officials’ communication within America is known to be common.
The disclosure came after a week dominated by the release of a dossier, prepared by a former British intelligence officer, alleging that Russia collected compromising information about Trump and that there had been secret communications between them. The president-elect fired off a fresh round of tweets about the Russian connection that continues to overshadow the buildup to his inauguration a week from now.
Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak reportedly included several calls on 29 December, the day on which Barack Obama announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials, as well as other measures in retaliation for Russian interference in the election. The official said Flynn and Kislyak have also been in contact at other times, according to the AP.
Sean Spicer, spokesman for the Trump transition, said Flynn and Kislyak spoke on the phone around the time of the sanctions announcement, although he claimed the conversation happened a day earlier, on 28 December.
“The call centred around the logistics of setting up a call with the president of Russia and the president-elect after he was sworn in, and they exchanged logistical information on how to initiate and schedule that call,” Spicer told reporters on Friday. “That was it, plain and simple.”
The call followed text message exchanges initiated by Flynn on Christmas Day, in which he wished the ambassador a merry Christmas and said he looked forward to “touching base with you and working with you”, Spicer added.
Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak, who has served as Russia’s ambassador since 2008, were first reported by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. “What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the US sanctions?” he wrote.