High-level advisers close to then-presidential nominee Donald Trump were in constant communication during the campaign with Russians known to U.S. intelligence, multiple current and former intelligence, law enforcement and administration officials tell CNN.
Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, said on Facebook that firing a national security adviser for his contacts with Russia was "not just paranoia, but something even worse".
And it came as the White House conceded that Trump knew for weeks that Flynn, his ousted security adviser, had misled the White House about his contacts with Russian Federation.
At issue is whether Flynn broke diplomatic protocol and potentially the law by discussing U.S. sanctions with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, before Trump's inauguration. The two men talked shortly after President Barack Obama imposed sanctions against Russian Federation for interfering in the 2016 presidential election - about three weeks before Trump took office on January 20.
Republicans have joined congressional calls for an investigation into Mr Flynn's contacts with Russian Federation. It was strictly coincidental that they had a conversation.
Mike Flynn is a fine person.
"Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador", Flynn wrote in his resignation letter Monday night. However, he said he asked Mr Flynn to resign because "didn't tell our Vice President properly" and lied about remembering the content of the call. After he went, Mr Trump continued to defend Mr Flynn as a "wonderful man". It seems, however, peacetime - like that of another General (Patton) - does not suit Flynn so comfortably.
Flynn resigned after it became clear that federal investigators and the national media were closing in on his close relationship ― bought and paid for, it appears ― with Vladimir Putin and his henchmen in Moscow.
"If I had that happen to me, it would be the biggest story in the history of publishing", the president said.
Not all Republican senators are keen on investigating Flynn and Kislyak's talks, however.
But White House spokesman Sean Spicer, at his daily briefing on February 14, did confirm that the two men spoke about the sanctions. Flynn had earlier misled the Vice President on the topic of the conversation, according to media reports. "The only thing you can ensure is when they don't, you fire them".
He was the first of Trump's Cabinet nominees to withdraw.
"The leaks are absolutely real, the news is fake, because so much of the news is fake", Mr Trump said. Those contacts emerged in news reports.
Reporter, Feb. 10: What do you think of reports that General Flynn had conversations with the Russians about the sanctions before you were sworn in? "I'm amazed by it", Trump said.
"I want to see an honest press. Will these leaks be happening as I deal on N.Korea etc?" "I'll look at that". How do we know?
One said the justice department alerted the White House there was a discrepancy between what officials were saying publicly about the contacts and the facts of what had occurred.
"I'm not going to prejudge any of the circumstances surrounding this until we have all of the information", the Wisconsin Republican said. Did the president know and when did he know it?
"The false, frightful fake reporting makes it much harder to make a deal with Russian Federation", the president continued.
Trump, a wealthy businessman, had never previously held public office and his early weeks in the White House have been marked by missteps and controversies, in particular his travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries.