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Russian Officials: We Had Contact With Trump Campaign

While President Donald Trump has asserted that neither his aides nor anyone in his entourage had contact with the Russian government during the 2016 presidential campaign, Russian officials have previously stated that this was not the case.

On Feb. 16, Trump denied reports that his presidential campaign had contacts with Russian officials throughout 2016.

"I have nothing to do with Russia," Trump said during a press conference. "To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does."

Trump's assertion had followed accusations that his campaign aides and associates had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence officials throughout 2016, during the same time period the U.S. intelligence community believes Russia was committing cyber espionage to damage Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign.

On Feb. 14, four anonymous American officials told The New York Times that the U.S. intelligence community had intercepted calls between Trump campaign aides and advisers to Russian officials. They did not cite any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia's alleged attempts to undermine Clinton.

On Feb. 20, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders denied the claims.

"This is a non-story because to the best of our knowledge, no contacts took place, so it's hard to make a comment on something that never happened," Sanders said.

Despite the White House denials, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has previously disclosed that his government had been in communication with the Trump campaign throughout the election.

"There were contacts," Ryabkov told Russian media on Nov. 10, 2016, Reuters reports. "We are doing this and have been doing this during the election campaign."

Ryabkov added "we know most of the people from [Trump's] entourage... I cannot say that all of them, but quite a few have been staying in touch with Russian representatives."

Meanwhile, Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak had confirmed that he had communicated with former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn during Trump's presidential campaign.

"It's something all diplomats do," Kislyak said in early February of his conversations with Flynn, according to The Washington Post.

Kislyak did not disclose the content of the discussions. Flynn resigned from his position in the Trump White House after it was discovered he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about discussing U.S. sanctions on Russia with Kislyak.

It is not considered unusual for campaign aides to communicate with foreign governments, even those that are considered unfriendly with the U.S.

"It's about relationship building -- they want to get to know the people who are possibly going to be in important jobs," said former State Department official Derek Chollet, who had helped former President Barack Obama's transition into the White House in 2008.

While the Trump campaign's alleged contacts with the Russian government is not a smoking gun for any wrongdoing, the question remains why the White House continues to deny that any communication had taken place.

Sources: The New York Times (2), Reuters via CNBCThe Washington Post / Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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