The Kremlin spokesman today denied reports of intercepted phone calls between Russian intelligence officials and members of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The New York Times said that the Russians made contact with Paul Manafort, who briefly served as Trump’s campaign chairman. Current and former U.S. officials interviewed by the Times declined to identify other Trump associates contacted by the Russians. Speaking to reporters in Moscow, Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, pointed to the anonymity of the sources, saying that the reports “are not based on any facts, do not point to actual facts.” The report comes a day after U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned following reports he misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about his contacts with Russia. Asked about the allegations, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova today said they “prove once again there is a major internal, political game, you can call it bargaining, in the United States.” Russian lawmakers were more direct in trying to defend Trump.
“This is not about information but about a high-precision information bomb,” Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the Federation Council’s information committee, tweeted. “The goal is to blow up the Trump administration.”
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Separately, Russian officials today dismissed a statement by White House spokesman Sean Spicer who said Trump expects Russia to return Crimea, which it annexed following a hastily called referendum in March 2014.
“We never give back our territory,” Zakharova told reporters.
Peskov echoed Zakharova’s remarks and added that Putin has been patient about explaining to his counterparts that the people of Crimea asked to join Russia because of their fears about the new government in Ukraine, and would keep delivering this message to the White House, too.