Times reports calls between Trump team, Russia

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WASHINGTON (AP) Developments on Tuesday, Feb. 14, about President Donald Trump and his administration (all times Eastern Standard Time).

  • 10:30 p.m.

U.S. agencies intercepted phone calls last year between Russian intelligence officials and members of Trump’s 2016 campaign team according to The New York Times.

The newspaper reported the Russians made contact with Paul Manafort, who briefly served as Trump’s campaign chairman. In late August, Manafort resigned from that job after disclosures by The Associated Press about his firm’s covert lobbying on behalf of Ukraine’s former pro-Russia governing party.

Current and former U.S. officials interviewed by The Times declined to identify other Trump associates contacted by the Russians.

The anonymous officials told The Times they found no evidence the Trump campaign worked with the Russians on hacking or other efforts to influence the election.

  • 6:10 p.m.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, wasn’t ready to say he was supporting fast food executive Andrew Puzder as Trump’s secretary of labor.

A spokesman for Portman confirmed he was one of at least six Republican senators waiting to hear the CEO of CKE Restaurants Inc. answer questions at his confirmation hearing on Thursday.

Puzder acknowledged employing a housekeeper who was not authorized to work in the United States. Puzder said he fired her about five years ago but did not pay the related taxes until after Trump nominated him Dec. 9. Puzder’s spokesman said the nominee paid the taxes as soon as he discovered he owed them.

Senators are expected to confront him about that lag when Puzder appears before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

  • 5:30 p.m.

A U.S. official said the FBI interviewed former national security adviser Michael Flynn about his interactions with a top Russian official.

The official said the interview took place at some point after Trump was inaugurated. The official was briefed on the investigation but was not authorized to discuss it by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

It was not immediately known what questions the FBI asked of Flynn or what he told law enforcement officials.

Flynn was ousted from his position Monday night amid concerns he misled Trump administration officials about his contact with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

Presidential spokesman Sean Spicer said Flynn’s firing was prompted by a gradual “erosion” of trust.

The New York Times first reported the FBI interview.

  • 3:55 p.m.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., added himself to the group refusing to announce support for the president’s labor secretary nominee.

Thune told reporters he would “wait and see what his explanation is” at the hearing over Puzder employing an undocumented worker and not paying related employment taxes.

The other four are Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Tim Scott of South Carolina, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — more than enough to sink Puzder’s nomination.

  • 3:50 p.m.

Former wrestling entertainment executive Linda McMahon was sworn in to lead the Small Business Administration.

Vice President Mike Pence administered the oath to McMahon after the Senate voted 81-19 to confirm her. The vote was a rare display of bipartisanship compared to the conflict over many of President Trump’s other nominees.

McMahon helped start and grow World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. She served as the chief executive officer at WWE before stepping down in 2009 to run for the Senate. She lost races in 2010 and 2012, spending nearly $100 million of her own money on those campaigns.

The SBA is best known for making small business loans and providing disaster aid to companies and entrepreneurs.

  • 3:28 p.m.

David Shulkin was sworn in as Trump’s Veterans Affairs secretary.

Vice President Pence administered the oath to Shulkin after all 100 senators voted late Monday to confirm the 57-year-old physician to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. The vote was another example of bipartisanship amid partisan rancor over other Cabinet nominees.

Shulkin is a holdover from the Obama administration; he had been the VA’s undersecretary of health.

Trump congratulated Shulkin on Twitter late Monday and urged him to immediately begin to “take care of veterans who have fought to protect our country.”

Shulkin is the first nonveteran to head the department, which has struggled at times to provide timely medical care and disability payments to millions of former service members.

  • 3:10 p.m.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called for a thorough and independent investigation of the situation with former national security adviser Flynn.

As part of it, Schumer insisted Attorney General Jeff Sessions must recuse himself.

“General Flynn’s resignation is not the end of the story. It is merely the beginning,” Schumer said. The resignation “raises more questions than it answers and the American people deserve to know the truth.”

As for Republicans’ suggestion that the House and Senate intelligence committees pursue any investigation, Schumer noted the committee does not have prosecutorial authority. He said he is wants “an independent investigation with executive authorities to purse potential criminal actions.”

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