Intercepted phone calls and records allegedly show that Donald Trump's presidential campaign and associates had multiple contacts with Russian intelligence authorities in the year leading up to the election, according to four former and current US officials, New York Times reported.
The contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials were allegedly discovered around the same time that the American intelligence agencies were probing Russia's hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the four officials are reported to have said.
It reportedly prompted US intelligence officials to probe whether there was any collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign on the hacking. The officials said there was no proof of any such co-operation.
The report also says that the intercepted communications were not limited to Trump campaign officials but also included other Trump associates. The contacts on the Russian side included government members besides intelligence officials.
Current and former American officials speaking on the condition of anonymity said that one of the Trump campaign officials intercepted on the calls was Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign's chairman for many months last year who had also worked as a political consultant in Ukraine and Russia. They refused to identify other Trump associates on the calls.
In an interview on Tuesday (14 February) to the NYT, Manafort said: "This is absurd. I have no idea what this is referring to. I have never knowingly spoken to Russian intelligence officers, and I have never been involved with anything to do with the Russian government or the Putin administration or any other issues under investigation today."
"It's not like these people wear badges that say, 'I'm a Russian intelligence officer,'" he added.
The intercepted communications were different from the conversations Michael Flynn, former National security adviser to Trump had with the Russian ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak. The two men discussed sanctions placed by the Obama administration on Russia in December, which led to Flynn's resignation.
According to the publication, the conversations between the aides and Russia were discovered during a routine electronic surveillance of communications of foreign officials by the National Security Agency.
Following that discovery, the FBI asked the NSA to gather as much information as possible on the Russian operatives on the calls.
The FBI has also reportedly looked at three other officials with close ties to Trump, although it is not clear if their calls were intercepted. The officials are Carter Page, ex-foreign policy adviser to Trump campaign, Roger Stone, a long-time Republican operative and Michael Flynn.
However, the FBI and White House declined to comment on the issue, the report added.