Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin smiles during his annual phone-in session with Russians in Moscow, on December 15, 2011. The carefully stage-managed annual phone-in, which allows Putin to flaunt his charisma and a natural ability to command attention, is designed to boost his image and show he remains in control of Russia. AFP PHOTO/ RIA-NOVOSTI (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

UPDATE: Trump Aides Deny Russian Claims of Contact with Campaign

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By Louise Mensch | 10:39 am, November 10, 2016

The best place to hide, it is often said, is in plain sight.

The night before the election, I reported that in October the FBI sought, and was granted, a secret FISA court warrant giving U.S. counter-intelligence agents permission to examine the activities of “U.S. persons” in Donald Trump’s campaign with ties to Russia.

Counterintelligence sources now further tell me that US intelligence has gained legal permission to look at transcripts of phone conversations that were held by Trump advisor Carter Page while he was in Russia in July.

Mr. Page, as reported by Heat Street in July, said he was in Russia as a private individual giving an academic lecture. He also met with some Russian officials, including the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, Arkady Dvorkovich. These meetings were at the time couched as private ones — not official contacts between the campaign and the Russian government. Russian media were skeptical of that explanation at the time.

Indeed, these contacts may have been viewed differently by the Kremlin. On Thursday, the Washington Post reports, Russia’s deputy foreign minister told a Russian news agency that there were indeed contacts between the Russian government and the Trump campaign:

Facing questions about his ties to Moscow because of his statements in favor of Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, Trump repeatedly denied having any contact with the Russian government.

But Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, in an interview with the state-run Interfax news agency, said that “there were contacts” with the Trump team.

“Obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage,” Ryabkov said. “Those people have always been in the limelight in the United States and have occupied high-ranking positions. I cannot say that all of them but quite a few have been staying in touch with Russian representatives.”

Trump’s team, however, on Thursday flatly denied the new reports, according to the Wall Street Journal. Asked if Mr. Ryabkov’s comments were accurate, Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said “absolutely not”.

Mr. Ryabkov’s statement to Russian news agency Interfax that “Russian representatives” were “staying in touch” with the Trump “entourage” appear to my counter-intelligence sources to be an effort to make covert contacts now look like routine communications. But my source speculate that Mr. Ryabkov’s statement actually an indication that Russia sought to use people in the Trump camp as so-called “agents of influence”.

My counter-intelligence sources also suggest that, by openly acknowledging Russian contacts with the Trump campaign, the Kremlin may be looking to “throw Trump under the bus” … exposing his camp to further FBI investigations about its ties to Russia and weakening his new administration.

Update: under penalty of perjury, anybody joining a Trump admin would have to confess their Russian meetings to the FBI, tweeted a former spokesman for Attorney General Eric Holder:

 

 

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