At his first White House briefing Monday, new Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about U.S. intelligence agencies investigating contacts between people close to President Donald Trump and members of the Russian government.
Asked if Trump would stop those investigations now that he is in charge of the federal government, Spicer told reporters, “[Trump] He has not made any indication that he will stop any investigation of any sort.”
The Central Intelligence Agency, the FBI, the National Security Agency and the Treasury Department have assembled a task force to investigate alleged increased Russian espionage and other activities, including Kremlin-ordered cyber attacks to interfere in the U.S. presidential election. During the campaign, investigators collected communications between people close to then-Republican nominee Trump and surrogates of the Russian government.
Two calls between Flynn, Kislyak
The Wall Street Journal was the first to report that U.S. intelligence agents were also looking into the content of calls between Trump’s newly sworn-in National Security Advisor, retired General Michael Flynn, and the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak. Reports say Flynn called Kislyak in late December, around the same time the Obama administration announced sanctions against Russia in retaliation for its alleged use of cyber attacks to interfere in the elections.
U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the cyber attacks into Democratic National Committee emails to discredit Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Spicer told reporters Monday there had only been two calls between Flynn and the Russian ambassador, and they focused on four subjects: setting up a phone call between Trump and Russian President Putin, exchanging holiday pleasantries, Flynn expressing his condolences for those killed in a Russian plane crash, and the possibilities of Russia and the U.S. working together to combat Islamic State.
Former counterterrorism official Malcom Nance told VOA that Trump needs to answer questions about his relationship with Russia raised by U.S. intelligence reports and by Trump’s strong public support for Putin and many of his foreign policy views.
Question about airstrikes
In Monday’s briefing, Spicer answered questions on a wide range of topics. Asked about a Russian report that the U.S. and Russia are conducting joint airstrikes in Syria, Spicer referred the reporter to the Pentagon for an answer.
But he added, “I think if there’s a way we can combat ISIS with any country, whether it’s Russia or anyone else, and we have a shared national interest in that, sure, we’ll take it.”
A Pentagon spokesman denied the Russian reports, saying: “The Department of Defense is not coordinating airstrikes with the Russian military in Syria.”