President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming national security advisor, Michael Flynn, reportedly had several telephone conversations with Russia’s ambassador on December 29, the same day President Barack Obama ousted 35 Russian diplomats and imposed other sanctions in response to Russia’s apparent attempts to influence last year’s presidential election.
A senior U.S. official said Friday the Obama administration is aware of the calls and other frequent communications between Flynn and Russia’s ambassador, according to The Associated Press.
Trump spokesman Sean Spicer confirmed to reporters Friday that Flynn and the ambassador communicated on December 28 and discussed setting up a call between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin after Trump’s January 20 inauguration. Spicer added they also exchanged Christmas greetings via text message (SMS) over the holidays. He did not confirm that Flynn spoke with the Russian diplomat on December 29.
Discussions between incoming administrations and foreign governments are not unusual, but multiple discussions on the day of the U.S. retaliatory actions would raise questions about whether Flynn and the ambassador discussed a possible Russian response.
One day after the sanctions and the expulsion of dozens of Russian officials from the U.S., Putin said he did not plan to retaliate. Trump, who has repeatedly praised Putin, applauded the Russian president’s decision.
FILE - Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn stands by the elevators as he arrives at Trump Tower where U.S. President-elect Donald Trump lives in New York.
Flynn’s multiple phone calls with Russia’s ambassador was first reported Thursday by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, who wrote that the calls could be in violation of the Logan Act, a more than 200-year-old law that prohibits U.S. citizens from trying to influence foreign governments that are engaged in disputes with the U.S.
Wall Street Journal interview
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the president-elect said he will probably maintain some of the Obama administration’s recent sanctions against Russia, although he adds that he might do away with them if Russia works with the U.S. on battling terrorists and achieving other goals.
In the interview, published Friday night, Trump said that “if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions?”
Obama imposed the sanctions in retaliation for alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election.
Trump also says he is open to meeting with Putin after his inauguration.
The Journal also asked Trump if he is committed to the “One China” policy, in which the U.S. doesn’t officially recognize Taiwan’s breakaway government.
He responded, “Everything is under negotiation.”
Russian hacking, Clinton emails
Meanwhile, in a series of tweets Friday, Trump renewed last week's vow to release a report on Russia’s alleged hacking of last year’s presidential election within 90 days, made accusations about unconfirmed reports containing compromising information about him, and launched another attack against former presidential opponent Hillary Clinton.
U.S. Intelligence agencies have said that Russian hacking interfered with election results, a claim the president-elect asserted to be true Wednesday during a news conference.
But Trump appeared to reverse himself on Friday, when he tweeted the conclusions reached by the U.S. intelligence community were not based on evidence of Russian cyber-interference in the presidential election.
The president-elect also strongly denied unsubstantiated reports that Russia has compromising personal information about him. Trump accused "sleazebag political operatives," "political opponents," and "intelligence" operatives of fabricating and releasing the information.
Earlier this week, the BuzzFeed digital media site posted online what it said was the full dossier in question, which alleged tawdry personal conduct by Trump on a visit to Moscow and that Russia’s government had been “cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump” for years.
U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Wednesday he told Trump the intelligence community did not create the document of unconfirmed claims.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper arrives for a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing about worldwide threats, on Capitol Hill, Feb. 9, 2016, in Washington.
Although Trump’s victorious presidential run ended more than two months ago, he continues to attack his Democratic presidential rival, Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s latest attacks against Clinton came one day after the Justice Department announced it will investigate F.B.I. Director James Comey’s decision to again review Clinton’s improper use of emails while she was Secretary of State days before the election, prompting accusations from Clinton’s campaign aides that the F.B.I. influenced voters.
Trump has several meetings scheduled Friday, including with Marillyn Hewson, CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation, which manufactures the F-35 fighter jet. After meeting in Trump tower with the president-elect, Hewson told reporters she is close to finalizing an agreement to significantly lower the cost of the fifth-generation combat plane.
Hewson also said Lockheed plans to create 1,800 new jobs at its Fort Worth, Texas facility, a move she said would add “thousands and thousands of jobs” across the supply chain in 45 U.S. states.