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.That Trump's campaign was in contact with the Russians was painfully obvious to anyone paying attention, given that Donald Trump himself stood at a podium in July and publicly invited the Russians to hack the U.S. government, and that two days after the election, Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei A. Ryabkov publicly said there had been contacts with Trump's team throughout the campaign. But it's still very important to have this confirmation.
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 officials said the intercepted communications were not limited to Trump campaign officials, and included other associates of Mr. Trump. On the Russian side, the contacts also included members of the Russian government outside of the intelligence services, the officials said. All of the current and former officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the continuing investigation is classified.
The officials said that one of the advisers picked up on the calls was Paul Manafort, who was Mr. Trump's campaign chairman for several months last year and had worked as a political consultant in Russia and Ukraine. The officials declined to identify the other Trump associates on the calls.
The call logs and intercepted communications are part of a larger trove of information that the F.B.I. is sifting through as it investigates the links between Mr. Trump's associates and the Russian government, as well as the D.N.C. hack, according to federal law enforcement officials. As part of its inquiry, the F.B.I. has obtained banking and travel records and conducted interviews, the officials said.
...The National Security Agency, which monitors the communications of foreign intelligence services, initially captured the communications between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russians as part of routine foreign surveillance. After that, the F.B.I. asked the N.S.A. to collect as much information as possible about the Russian operatives on the phone calls, and to search through troves of previous intercepted communications that had not been analyzed.
A few observations:
1. If you've been paying attention to the anonymous sources for these articles, they are almost always noted to be, as here, "current and former American officials." We are reaching a tipping point for a lot of reasons, one of which is that the former (Obama era) officials are only aware of what happened to a certain point in time. We're quickly closing in on the end of their visibility of what the Trump campaign and administration has done, and, for insight into what happened after that, we're going to have to rely exclusively on officials in the Trump administration, who are constantly being purged and replaced with Trump's "own people." This creates profound urgency to take this seriously now.
2. Note that the FBI investigation was going on long before Election Day. FBI Director James Comey felt it was necessary and right (wrong and wrong) to make public a bullshit and ultimately irrelevant investigation into "Hillary Clinton's emails" (because of a laptop owned by Huma Abedin, uncovered in an investigation of Anthony Weiner), but did not feel obliged to make public that Trump's campaign was under investigation for collusion with a foreign government.
3. It's critical to understand that Russia's meddling wasn't just intended to try to install Trump as a puppet, but also to seek vengeance on Hillary Clinton:
When mass protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin erupted in Moscow in December 2011, Putin made clear who he thought was really behind them: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.That history is important—because it explains why Putin orchestrated election interference on behalf of Clinton's opponent, even if Trump himself wasn't aware of it. (He was aware of it.)
With the protesters accusing Putin of having rigged recent elections, the Russian leader pointed an angry finger at Clinton, who had issued a statement sharply critical of the voting results. "She said they were dishonest and unfair," Putin fumed in public remarks, saying that Clinton gave "a signal" to demonstrators working "with the support of the U.S. State Department" to undermine his power. "We need to safeguard ourselves from this interference in our internal affairs," Putin declared.
It matters that Russia's election subversion was partly vengeance against Clinton for her defense of democracy; for doing her job and doing it well. And it matters that this part of the history is being left out of the narrative. It matters for a number of reasons, not least of which is because concealing Putin's personal vendetta against Clinton leaves space for Trump defenders to claim that there was "no reason" for Russian intervention or collusion.
4. Honestly, between Russian interference in the election, Russian collusion by one campaign, and Comey's influence, we legit need a do-over. The election was illegitimate. The president is illegitimate. His entire administration is illegitimate. We are three weeks in. This isn't going to get better. At this point the only solution is a do-over and no one will be brave enough to say so. We need a special election. Period.
It's never going to happen, unfortunately, but it should. Instead, we are going to be okay with unprecedented forces conspiring in the most egregious, anti-democratic, treasonous ways to stop a woman from becoming president.