Trump Dodges Question about Whether his Campaign Colluded with Russia

by Aaron Rupar –

He quite simply ignored the question.

Buried in the middle of CNN’s report about an intelligence dossier that says Russia has “compromising personal and financial information” about President-elect Donald Trump is an explosive bit that alleges collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

CNN writes that the dossier, which is unverified but reportedly regarded as credible by the CIA, includes “allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.” This news comes on the heels of Trump repeatedly denigrating the U.S. intelligence community in an apparent attempt to downplay agencies’ consensus conclusion that Russia was behind cyberattacks intended to manipulate the presidential election in his favor.

The dossier’s allegations about collusion are consistent with comments made days after the presidential election by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency that Russian officials were indeed in touch with Trump officials during the campaign.

“There were contacts,” Ryabkov said. “I cannot say that all of them, but quite a few have been staying in touch with Russian representatives.”

When Reuters reached out to a Trump spokesperson about Ryabkov’s comments, they didn’t get a response. On Wednesday, Trump was given another chance to deny his campaign colluded with Russia.

During a news conference— the first Trump held since July 27, when he encouraged Russian hackers to “find” Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails — Trump dismissed the dossier, saying “It’s all fake news… It’s all phony stuff. It didn’t happen.”

Later, Trump was asked directly about the alleged collusion.

A reporter asked him:

Mr. President-elect, can you stand here today, once and for all and say that no one connected to you or your campaign had any contact with Russia leading up to or during the presidential campaign? And if you do indeed believe that Russia was behind the hacking, what is your message to Vladimir Putin right now?

But Trump’s response completely dodged the first part of the question.

“He shouldn’t be doing it. He won’t be doing it. Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I’m leading than when other people have led it,” Trump replied. “You will see that. Russia will respect our country more. He shouldn’t have done it. I don’t believe that he will be doing it more now.”

Trump did not directly answer the question when asked if anyone connected to him or his campaign had contact with Russia during the campaign

Connections between Trump and Russia have been under scrutiny for months. In September, Yahoo broke news that U.S. law enforcement was looking into Donald Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page’s meetings with high-ranking Russian officials over the summer. That came weeks after Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, resigned from his position amid reports Ukrainian authorities were investigating him for receiving $12.7 million in illegal payments from Ukraine’s former pro-Russia ruling party.

Trump’s soon-to-be Homeland Security Adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, sat at the same table with Putin during a December 2015 event in Russia — an event where Flynn blasted President Obama and said he didn’t know whether the 2013 sarin gas attack in Syria was a “false flag.” And Trump’s secretary of state nomination, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship by Putin in 2013.

During Wednesday’s news conference, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said, “Carter Page is an individual who the president-elect does not know.” But last March, Trump name-dropped Page and mentioned that he has a PhD while discussing his foreign policy team during a Washington Post interview.

If Trump or any member of his campaign did collude with Russia to influence the presidential election, that could constitute a criminal violation of the Logan Act, which bars American citizens from interacting “with any foreign government” in an effort to manipulate U.S. foreign policy.

During a hearing before a Senate committee on Tuesday, FBI director James Comey refused to answer questions about whether the bureau has investigated links between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress