Russian government officials revealed Thursday that they were in touch with members of President-elect Donald Trump’s political team during the U.S. election campaign and know most of his entourage, several news outlets reported. The disclosure could reopen scrutiny over the Kremlin’s role in Trump’s bitter race against Hillary Clinton.
Despite constantly praising Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump repeatedly denied having any contact with the Russian government. But in comments that could prove politically awkward for the president-elect, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said there had indeed been several contacts with the Trump campaign.
“We were in contact,” Ryabkov said according to the state-run Interfax news agency. “We are doing this and have been doing this during the election campaign.”
Such contacts would continue, he added, saying the Russian government knew and had been in touch with many of Trump’s closest allies. Ryabkov also said that “Moscow was jubilant about Trump’s victory.”
The Russian parliament erupted in applause on Wednesday when it heard that Trump had been elected and Putin told foreign ambassadors he was ready to fully restore ties with Washington.
Moscow and Washington are at odds over Syria, Ukraine and NATO.
Speculation has swirled about Trump’s links to Russia since early in the campaign, both because of his warm words about Putin and past business ventures in Russia. It is not clear whether Trump currently has any investments in the country, because he has not released any tax records.
Several Trump advisers have also had well-publicized ties to Russia, including his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who managed an investment fund for a Russian aluminum magnate with close ties to Putin.
Trump’s national security adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, sat next to Putin in 2015 during a dinner held by the Kremlin-funded television channel RT, formerly known as Russia Today.
Politically, Trump has called for closer ties with Russia to fight the Islamic State, and he rebuffed calls to renounce Putin after the Russian leader called Trump “colorful and talented,” a remark that was mistranslated by some media as “a genius.”
The U.S. government has blamed Russia for cyber attacks on Democratic Party organizations.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation opened a preliminary inquiry in recent months into allegations that Trump or his associates might have had questionable dealings with Russian people or businesses. The agency has not publicly discussed the probe.
Interfax also reported that Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, would be in New York this week for a chess tournament, a few blocks from Trump Tower, where the president-elect has his office.