Several audience attendees of the Conservative Political Action Conference were spotted waving tiny Russian flags with President Donald Trump's name emblazoned across them. The flags were promptly confiscated, but signal the growing popularity of Russian President Vladimir Putin's government in the U.S.
On Feb. 24, Trump spoke before CPAC in National Harbor, Maryland. The annual gathering of conservative voices is the largest forum for Republican lawmakers to express their ideas. Before Trump took to the stage, some audience members began waving tiny Russian flags featuring his name, Vox reports.
The flags were confiscated by CPAC staffers. The optics of Trump's audience waving Russian flags could have been embarrassing for the president, whose national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned for allegedly misleading Vice President Mike Pence and the FBI about his conversations with a Russian ambassador.
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The U.S. intelligence community had also allegedly captured frequent communications between Trump campaign aides and Russian intelligence during the 2016 presidential race, the same time period when Russia had allegedly hacked and leaked data from both the Democratic National Committee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's campaign.
On Feb. 24, Trump administration officials acknowledged that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus had asked the FBI to dispute the reporting that campaign aides had contacts with Russian intelligence. The FBI had declined to do so, NBC News reports.
Trump administration officials maintain that Priebus had not asked the FBI to blunt any investigation into the matter but to push back on the news coverage itself.
Recent polling has indicated that Republicans have gradually warmed up to Russia.
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On Feb. 21, a Gallup poll found 32 percent of Republican respondents held a favorable view of Putin, whereas only 12 percent had held a favorable view of the Russian president in a 2015 survey, The Hill reports.
During his remarks before CPAC, Trump blasted the news reports that had lead to Flynn's resignation and suggested that any anonymous leaks coming from his administration were fabricated.