Donald Trump's Russia scandal may have just gotten deeper with a report that the White House violated rules in making a request to the FBI to publicly deny reports of communication between Trump's team and Russian intelligence officials during the 2016 campaign -- a request that the FBI denied.
The White House had sought the FBI's help in squashing media reports that Trump's team had secret contacts with Russia, CNN reported.
The report claimed that White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus spoke to FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and later to FBI Director James Comey, asking if they could talk to reporters on background to dispute reports of contact between Trump associates and Russia.But Comey refused.
"Comey rejected the request for the FBI to comment on the stories, according to sources, because the alleged communications between Trump associates and Russians known to US intelligence are the subject of an ongoing investigation," the report noted. "The White House did issue its own denial, with Priebus calling The New York Times story "complete garbage.' "As the report added, the contact between the White House and FBI was also in violation of rules keeping the president separate from FBI.
"The direct communications between the White House and the FBI were unusual because of decade-old restrictions on such contacts. Such a request from the White House is a violation of procedures that limit communications with the FBI on pending investigations."The original New York Times report had claimed that American intelligence officials had intercepted calls between members of Trump's campaign and senior Russian intelligence officials. The calls coincided with Russia's hacking of the Democratic National Committee, leading officials to investigate whether the Trump team was colluding with Russia on the hacking, the report added.
The officials said they have found no such evidence of cooperation so far.
"But the intercepts alarmed American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in part because of the amount of contact that was occurring while Mr. Trump was speaking glowingly about the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin," the report went on to add. "At one point last summer, Mr. Trump said at a campaign event that he hoped Russian intelligence services had stolen Hillary Clinton's emails and would make them public."
The report of the Trump White House's request for the FBI to squash media reports on the Russian contacts comes as Donald Trump's Russia scandal appears to be deepening. The rumors of collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia simmered during the 2016 campaign and later came to light through a dossier compiled by a former British MI6 intelligence official. The document detailed alleged contact between Trump's camp and Russian intelligence related to the DNC leaks meant to damage Hillary Clinton, and claimed that Russia had worked for years to cultivate Trump as a candidate through a series of payoffs and compiling compromising material that could be used to blackmail him.
Most of the details of the report remain unverified, but recent reports suggest a connection to at least some. One aspect of the dossier involved Trump lifting sanctions on Russia and walking back the hard-line stance Obama had taken over Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.
A recent CNN report claimed that Trump may already be working on a plan to allow Russia to keep control of Crimea.
"In a CNN interview, Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Artemenko said he discussed his left-field proposal for Ukraine in January with US President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who offered to deliver the plan to the Trump administration," the report noted. "The exact details of the plan are unclear, yet reports have suggested it revolves around leasing Crimea -- annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014 -- to Moscow for 50 to 100 years. In exchange, Russia would withdraw its troops from the separatist regions in Ukraine's war-torn east."
But Donald Trump and White House officials continue to deny any contact with Russia or involvement with Russian intelligence officials.
[Featured Image by Aude Guerrucci – Pool/Getty Images]