Trump Denies Campaign Aides Had Contact With Russian Officials President Donald Trump denied contact between his presidential campaign and Russia, defended the conduct of his now-ousted national security adviser, and complained about what he called delays by Congress in confirming his nominee to become director of national intelligence.
NPR logo

Trump Denies Campaign Aides Had Contact With Russian Officials

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/515638093/515638096" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Trump Denies Campaign Aides Had Contact With Russian Officials

Trump Denies Campaign Aides Had Contact With Russian Officials

Trump Denies Campaign Aides Had Contact With Russian Officials

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/515638093/515638096" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

President Donald Trump denied contact between his presidential campaign and Russia, defended the conduct of his now-ousted national security adviser, and complained about what he called delays by Congress in confirming his nominee to become director of national intelligence.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We're going to begin this hour with the latest from the White House on Russia. At a news conference this afternoon, President Trump was asked repeatedly for a yes or no answer to this question.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I told you General Flynn obviously was dealing, so that's one person. But he was dealing, as he should have been.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: During the election?

TRUMP: No, no, nobody that I know of.

MCEVERS: That's a reference there to General Michael Flynn, the president's national security adviser until he was ousted from the job on Monday. NPR's Mary Louise Kelly is here with us to talk about this now. Hi there.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So did we ever get from the president a yes or no answer to that question of whether there were contacts between Russia and his campaign?

KELLY: We never got a yes or no answer to that question.

MCEVERS: OK.

KELLY: As close as we got was what we just heard the president say there - nobody that he knows of. He brought up the name Paul Manafort. You may recall that was his former campaign chair, one of the names that's come up in connection with these reports. Trump said Manafort's denied the contacts, and I can only tell you what he said.

And then as for himself, as for President Trump himself, that exchange that we just heard went on a few minutes later to go on to a very exasperated-sounding Trump, saying, how many times do I have to answer this question? I have no deals with Russia. I have nothing to do with it - so a strong personal denial there.

MCEVERS: Well mentioned Mike Flynn, the national security adviser until three days ago. And the very first question at the press conference came from our colleague Mara Liasson...

KELLY: It did.

MCEVERS: ...Asking him, why did you fire him? What did Trump say to this?

KELLY: And Mara pressed him because Trump did not answer the question right away. The issue here is Flynn discussing U.S. sanctions on Russia while he was still a private citizen before Trump came into office. And what Trump said today was he fired Flynn, and he did so because Flynn misled the vice president about the nature of calls with the Russian ambassador to Washington, not because Flynn made the calls. And it's interesting. I want to let you hear exactly what Trump said today.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts. So it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn't doing it. I didn't direct him, but I would have directed him because that's his job.

KELLY: I would have directed him - so getting to another key question there. Did the president tell Flynn to make those calls? And what you heard there was Trump saying he didn't instruct Flynn, but he approved of Flynn's actions. I don't think saying approved of raising the sanctions wasn't what he meant there but approved of - that Flynn was making calls to foreign ambassadors.

MCEVERS: OK. Do you think this is the last time we're going to hear about Mike Flynn?

KELLY: Oh, no.

MCEVERS: OK.

KELLY: We know at the very least, Congress is calling for him to testify and explain what exactly happened from his point of view and what the timeline was there of his contacts with the Russian ambassador and any other Russian officials - so still a lot of unanswered questions on the Flynn front.

MCEVERS: Trump also complained today about delays in getting his Cabinet approved. He specifically raised his pick for director of national intelligence, former Senator Dan Coats. Let's hear what Trump said there.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: He can't get approved. How do you not approve him? He's been a colleague, highly respected, brilliant guy, great guy. Everybody knows it. We're waiting for approval.

MCEVERS: Why can't Dan Coats get approved?

KELLY: Well, the first step in getting approved would be to hold a confirmation hearing. It's a Senate-confirmable post. Dan Coats was nominated to run U.S. intelligence back on January 7 during the transition, and here we are on February 16. And the Senate still does not have a firm date on the calendar for that confirmation hearing.

Now, there is an update I can offer you on this one. The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, came out today and said he's looking at the last week of February. And this is significant for a couple of reasons, Kelly. Privately, Trump and his advisers have signaled they would be open - might be open to doing away with the DNI job altogether. Now, that would require an act of Congress, but it has contributed to suspicions that maybe the holdup on codes was something more to do with just a busy calendar or slow paperwork.

You know, what we're left with, though - I mean the big picture - the takeaway is, Trump is steering us national security without a permanent intelligence director or a permanent national security adviser - not an ideal situation at the moment.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Mary Louise Kelly. Thank you very much.

KELLY: You're very welcome.

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.