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Russia denies intelligence contacts with Donald Trump campaign

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday, Feb. 15,

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, denied reports of intercepted phone calls between Russian intelligence officials and members of Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Don Emmert

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday attacked the “conspiracy theories and blind hatred” of the news media and decried leaks to the press from the intelligence community, but didn’t directly address reports that his campaign had communicated regularly with Russia.

He fiercely defended former national security adviser Michael Flynn, though his press secretary had said Trump asked Flynn to resign because his trust was broken. Flynn was ousted Monday amid reports that he discussed U.S. sanctions with Russia before Trump took office and misled Vice President Mike Pence.

“General Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media,” Trump said at a joint White House news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The president called leaked intelligence a “criminal act,” and added, “People are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton.”

The New York Times had reported that U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officers intercepted calls between Trump’s inner circle and Russia as they were uncovering evidence of Kremlin hacking during the presidential campaign.

But the Times reported that officials said there was no evidence of collusion between Trump’s team and Russia.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer challenged reporters Wednesday to get their unnamed sources on the record.

A Kremlin spokesman denied reports of intercepted phone calls between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials, saying they’re not based on “actual facts,” The Associated Press said.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats — and some Republicans — leaned in on their push for investigations and answers into the administration’s ties to Russia.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called an emergency caucus meeting, saying afterward, “Our security is at risk. Our system of checks and balances and rule of law is at risk. This cannot be a time for partisan squabbles.”

Schumer said he wants Trump-appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from any probe and wants Trump campaign and transition officials available to testify under oath.

Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) noted separately that a bipartisan probe was already underway into Russian hacking during the campaign, but they have questions for the White House on contact with Russia.

Trump’s remarks at the news conference with Netanyahu echoed a flurry of heated morning tweets.

“The fake news media is going crazy with their conspiracy theories and blind hatred. @MSNBC & @CNN are unwatchable. @foxandfriends is great!” Trump wrote.

“This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign,” he said in another post.

“The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!” he added.

Trump also tweeted that Obama was “too soft on Russia” because Ukraine’s Crimea territory was annexed to Russia during his presidency.

At the White House roundtable meeting of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, Trump reiterated that he seeks to usher in a business-friendly climate by “cutting regulations big league.”

The president hosted Rubio, a former presidential primary rival, and his wife for dinner Wednesday night.

Trump also announced he would hold and attend a rally for supporters Saturday in Melbourne, Florida.

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