Here are the biggest links — and alleged links — between the Trump campaign and Russia

AG Jeff Sessions recuses himself from any campaign probe

First, the latest: On Wednesday night, it surfaced that Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, had two conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the presidential campaign. Sessions' office confirmed those reports on Thursday.

A Sessions spokeswoman said the meetings came as part of Sessions' job as a senator on the Armed Services Committee. Sessions was a U.S. senator for Alabama before being appointed to President Donald Trump's cabinet.

I didn't have — did not have communications with the Russians.
Jeff Sessions
U.S. Attorney General, during his confirmation hearing

But during his confirmation hearing on Jan. 10, Sessions said "I didn't have — did not have communications with the Russians," when asked directly by Senator Al Franken about alleged "continuing exchange of information" between Trump surrogates and the Russian government during the presidential campaign.

Franken's question came about because U.S. intelligence agencies — including the NSA, CIA and FBI — concluded that Russia used hackers to try to sabotage America's 2016 presidential election. Those attacks against U.S. democracy prompted the Obama administration to slap sanctions on Russia, which already was under 2014 sanctions for attacking Ukraine.

Trump said on Thursday afternoon that he does not think Sessions should recuse himself from the investigation into ties between Trump's surrogates and Moscow, though several Democratic and Republican lawmakers have said he should not oversee a probe into his own administration.

Here's a round-up of other links — and alleged links — between Trump's inner circle and Vladimir Putin's Russia:

Michael Flynn was untruthful about his contacts with Russia

Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn resigned Feb. 13 after scrutiny into his discussions about the Russia sanctions with some of the country's officials ahead of Trump's inauguration.

What impacted Manafort's decision to resign?

Flynn admitted that he misled Vice President Mike Pence and others about his communications with Russia's ambassador about U.S. sanctions in the weeks before Trump took office. Pence, who was initially kept in the dark after others in the White House discovered that Flynn had been untruthful, repeated Flynn's false claims unknowingly.

Trump denies that he asked Flynn to talk to the Russians about sanctions.

Paul Manafort was linked to a Putin puppet

Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign chairman until August of last year, left the campaign after reports linked him to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who helped Russian President Vladimir Putin in his efforts to control Ukraine.

The Associated Press had reported that emails showed a firm run by Manafort carried out a covert Washington lobbying operation on behalf of Yanukovych's party to influence American public opinion between 2012 and 2014.

Trump admires Vladimir Putin, and says so

Trump repeatedly expressed admiration and respect for Putin throughout his campaign.

On Sept. 7, Trump said Putin had been a leader of his own nation "far more" than President Barack Obama had been of the United States, adding that Putin "has very strong control over a country. Now, it's a very different system and I don't happen to like that system."

Trump said repeatedly during the campaign that he had no relationship with Putin, but in a 2013 interview he said "I do have a relationship with Putin ..."

TWEET: Does Donald Trump have a relationship with Vladimir Putin?

There have also been multiple reports linking Trump's business interests to Russia. Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., told Russian daily Kommersant that "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets," adding that "we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."

Vladimir Putin runs Russia as virtual dictator, and the country has no legally guaranteed freedoms.

Russia fomented a civil war in neighboring Ukraine and annexed one of its provinces after Ukraine kicked Yanukovych out of office and put pro-Western leadership in his place.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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