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Trump aides respond to report that raises legal questions about calls with Russian ambassador

 (Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)
(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

Members of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team tried Friday to clarify the nature of contact between the incoming national security advisor and a senior Russian official after a report raised questions about whether the interactions may have been illegal.

Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said the advisor, retired Army Gen. Michael Flynn, spoke by phone with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, on Dec. 28. They discussed plans for a phone conversation between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that will take place after the inauguration.

The two also exchanged text messages on Dec. 25 wishing each other a merry Christmas, Spicer said.

“That was it, plain and simple,” he said.

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, citing a senior U.S. official, reported earlier that Flynn called Kislyak several times on Dec. 29 — the day the Obama administration announced retaliatory actions in response to Russian hacking that officials have said was intended to influence the U.S. election.

A second Trump transition official said that the phone calls preceded the Obama administration’s announcement of sanctions and that the subject did not come up in the calls. The White House said Trump transition officials were told about the pending sanctions before they were announced publicly. It wasn’t clear when Flynn learned of the sanctions.

Flynn and Kislyak also spoke on other issues last month; on Dec. 19, to discuss the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, and during one call to invite a Trump administration official to visit a conference in Kazakhstan once Trump takes office.

“These are not substantive policy discussions or anything related to sanctions,” the official said, requesting anonymity to provide a fuller explanation of the conversations.

Ignatius suggested that the interactions could flout the Logan Act, which bars U.S. citizens from unauthorized interactions with foreign governments with an intent to influence government actions.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, when asked Friday whether the Obama administration was concerned about Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak, answered: “Depends on what he said.”

“The fact that the designated national security advisor ... was in touch with the Russian ambassador to the United States, I can understand why that was the subject of a column in the newspaper today,” he said.

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