Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Politics

Trump's team changes story on contacting Russian diplomat

WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump's national security adviser and Russia's ambassador to the United States have been in frequent contact in recent weeks, including on the day the Obama administration hit Moscow with sanctions in retaliation for election-related hacking, a senior U.S. official said Friday.

After initially denying that Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak spoke Dec. 29, a Trump official said late Friday that the transition team was aware of one call on the day President Barack Obama imposed sanctions.

It's not unusual for incoming administrations to have discussions with foreign governments before taking office. But repeated contacts just as Obama imposed sanctions would raise questions about whether Trump's team discussed — or even helped shape — Russia's response.

Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly did not retaliate against the United States for the move, a decision Trump quickly praised.

More broadly, Flynn's contact with the Russian ambassador suggests the incoming administration has already begun to lay the groundwork for its promised closer relationship with Moscow. That effort appears to be moving ahead, even as many in Washington, including Republicans, have expressed outrage over intelligence officials' assessment that Putin launched a hacking operation aimed at meddling in the U.S. election to benefit Trump.

In an interview published Friday evening by the Wall Street Journal, Trump said he might do away with Obama's sanctions if Russia works with the United States on battling terrorists and achieving other goals. "If Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions?" he asked.

During a news conference Wednesday, Trump highlighted his warmer rapport with the Russian leader.

"If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia," he said.

The sanctions targeted the GRU and FSB, leading Russian intelligence agencies that the U.S. said were involved in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other groups. The United States also kicked out 35 Russian diplomats who it said were actually intelligence operatives.

Questions about Trump's friendly posture toward Russia have deepened since the election, as he has dismissed U.S. intelligence agencies' assertions about Russia's role in the hacking of Democratic groups. In briefing Trump on their findings, intelligence officials also presented the president-elect with unsubstantiated claims that Russia had amassed compromising personal and financial allegations about him, according to a separate U.S. official who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the official was not allowed to publicly discuss the matter.

The Senate Intelligence Committee announced late Friday that it would investigate possible contacts between Russia and people associated with U.S. political campaigns as part of a broader investigation into Moscow's meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump acknowledged for the first time this week that he accepts that Russia was behind the hacking. But he questioned whether officials were leaking information about their meetings with him, warning that would be a "tremendous blot" on their record.

As national security adviser, Flynn will work in the West Wing close to the Oval Office and will have frequent access to Trump. Unlike Trump's nominees to lead the Pentagon, State Department and other national security agencies, Flynn's post does not require Senate confirmation.

Flynn's contacts with the Russian ambassador were first reported by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. The U.S. official who spoke to the AP was not authorized to confirm the contacts publicly and insisted on anonymity.

The Trump team's account of Flynn's contacts with the Russian envoy changed throughout the day Friday.

Trump spokesman Sean Spicer initially said there was one phone call between Flynn and Kislyak on Dec. 28, as well as a Christmas greeting via text messages over the holidays. He said sanctions were not part of the discussions.

Later Friday, a transition official told the AP that Flynn and Kislyak had spoken by phone on Dec. 29, following a text message from the ambassador the day before. During the call, the Russian ambassador invited U.S. officials to a conference on Syria later this month that is being held in Kazakhstan.

The official also confirmed a phone call between the men earlier in December.

The U.S. official who spoke to the AP Friday described the contacts between Flynn and Kislyak as "very frequent."

Comments
Back to work: Government shutdown ending as Dems relent

Back to work: Government shutdown ending as Dems relent

New York TimesWASHINGTON ó Congress brought an end to a three-day government shutdown on Monday as Senate Democrats buckled under pressure to adopt a short-term spending bill to fund government operations without first addressing the fate of young un...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Congressman combating harassment used public money on own case

Congressman combating harassment used public money on own case

WASHINGTON ó Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., who has taken a leading role in fighting sexual harassment in Congress, used thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to settle his own misconduct complaint after a former aide accused him last year of making un...
Published: 01/20/18
The longer the shutdown lasts, the further the economic ripples will spread

The longer the shutdown lasts, the further the economic ripples will spread

The early days of the federal government shutdown wonít slow the U.S. economy much. No workers are missing paychecks yet, and because it is a weekend, few businesses expect to feel the effects of lost customers or suppliers.That could change, quickly...
Published: 01/20/18
Romano: If UCF is national champion, then Iím a Hollywood stud

Romano: If UCF is national champion, then Iím a Hollywood stud

Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said people were entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.Clearly, Moynihan never dealt with Florida legislators.Because around Tallahassee, facts are fungible. They arenít just up for debate, they...
Published: 01/19/18
Updated: 01/20/18
U.S. government shuts down; Democrats, GOP blame each other

U.S. government shuts down; Democrats, GOP blame each other

WASHINGTON ó The federal government shut down at the stroke of midnight Friday, halting all but the most essential operations and marring the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trumpís inauguration in a striking display of Washington dysfunctio...
Published: 01/19/18
Updated: 01/20/18
Battle lines already forming for Menendez corruption retrial

Battle lines already forming for Menendez corruption retrial

NEWARK, N.J. ó U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez might spend 2018 asking voters to re-elect him and jurors to acquit him. Prosecutors from the Department of Justice told a federal judge in New Jersey on Friday that they will seek a retrial of the Democratic sen...
Published: 01/19/18
Congress likely racing toward a government shutdown

Congress likely racing toward a government shutdown

WASHINGTON ó A bitterly-divided Congress hurtled toward a government shutdown this weekend in a partisan stare-down over demands by Democrats for a solution on politically fraught legislation to protect about 700,000 younger immigrants from being dep...
Published: 01/19/18
Clearwater City Council candidate John Funk: City needs better planning

Clearwater City Council candidate John Funk: City needs better planning

CLEARWATER ó Voters may not be too familiar with the name John Funk.So since launching his campaign for City Council Seat 5 against well-known incumbent Hoyt Hamilton, Funk said he has knocked on 2,000 doors to introduce himself. Before the March 13 ...
Published: 01/19/18
Clearwater City Council candidate Hoyt Hamilton: Experience is key for critical next term

Clearwater City Council candidate Hoyt Hamilton: Experience is key for critical next term

CLEARWATER ó By asking voters to elect him into office a fifth time, Hoyt Hamilton knows heís now considered part of the old-guard. Born and raised in Clearwater, his family roots stretch back here more than 100 years. Hamilton, 59, spent nearly his ...
Published: 01/19/18

Q&A: Government shutdown looms. Hereís what you need to know

Lawmakers have until midnight tonight to pass legislation to avert a government shutdown.Hereís what that means. Why would the government shut down?Every year, Congress has to approve laws, known as appropriations, that provide money for federal agen...
Published: 01/18/18