Russian government officials had contacts with members of Donald Trump’s campaign team, a senior Russian diplomat said Thursday, in a disclosure that could reopen scrutiny over the Kremlin’s role in the president-elect’s bitter race against Hillary Clinton.Including messaging back and forth via a server registered to the Trump organization and another belonging to a Russian bank?
Facing questions about his ties to Moscow because of statements interpreted as lauding Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump repeatedly denied having any contact with the Russian government.
After the latest statement by the Russian diplomat, the spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, Hope Hicks, denied there were interactions between Russia and the Trump team before Tuesday’s election.
“The campaign had no contact with Russian officials,” she said in an email.
But Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, in an interview with the state-run Interfax news agency, said that “there were contacts” with the Trump team.
Speaking to Bloomberg News, ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Russian embassy staff met with members of Trump’s campaign, which she described as “normal practice.” Democratic Party contender Hillary Clinton’s campaign refused similar requests for meetings, she told the agency.
Asked later for clarification, a Foreign Ministry official declined to elaborate on Ryabkov’s remarks, but said it was “normal diplomatic practice of supporting contact with the leaders in the campaign” for issues such as clarifying statements by the candidate or conveying interview requests from Russian journalists. The ministry official spoke condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Obama administration officials have blamed Russian hackers, possibly with high-level intelligence links, for infiltrating the email account of Clinton’s campaign chief, John Podesta. The emails were then disclosed by WikiLeaks in an effort that Clinton supporters claim was intended to damage her White House bid.