Trump has 'no recollection' of meeting with Russian ambassador
The White House on Tuesday poured cold water on suggestions that President Donald Trump met Russia's ambassador while running for the presidency, but indicated it was possible they briefly shook hands.
Amid suggestions that Trump met Sergey Kislyak on 27 April at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, the White House said it had "no recollection" who Trump shook hands with during a brief reception.
Trump was at the hotel to give a major foreign policy address. The Russian embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"Several ambassadors were present" at Trump's foreign policy speech and pre-speech reception, hosted by the Center for the National Interest, a think tank, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders told AFP.
"Mr Trump was at the reception for about five minutes and then went immediately to the podium. We have no recollection of who he may have shaken hands with at the reception and we were not responsible for inviting or vetting guests."
Embassies in Washington routinely contact presidential campaigns both Republican and Democrat, trying to give their capitals better insight into the candidates and their views.
But following an election in which US intelligence alleged that Moscow tried to aid Trump, Kislyak's contacts have come under intense scrutiny.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last week he would recuse himself from any investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election because he was involved with President Donald Trump's campaign.
"I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump campaign," Sessions told reporters in the latest twist of the controversy over ties between Trump associates and Russia that has dogged the early days of his presidency.
Michael Flynn, the US national security advisor, resigned in February following claims he discussed the lifting of sanctions on Russia with the country's ambassador before Trump took office.
Flynn, who also has a history of making Islamophobic statements, initially assured Vice President Mike Pence that he had not discussed sanctions with the Russians. But it later emerged that the subject had come up.
US media reported that Trump advisors JD Gordon and Carter Page met Kislyak. Flynn and Trump's son-in-law and senior White House aide Jared Kushner are also reported to have met the Russian ambassador at Trump Tower in New York in December 2016.
The Trump White House has repeatedly denied collusion between the campaign and Russian officials.
Trump himself has called the allegations "a total witch hunt". In a February press conference, Trump insisted that the issue of Russia was "a ruse".
"I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven't made a phone call to Russia in years. Don't speak to people from Russia," he said, while exempting two calls with Vladimir Putin since becoming president.
According to officials, US intelligence agencies and the Federal Bureau of Investigation continue to investigate just how and how much Moscow intruded into US politics.
Four congressional committees have opened probes into the issue.