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Former Defense Intelligence Agency Director retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, incoming White House national security adviser, attends "2017 Passing the Baton" conference at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas(reuters_tickers)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House said on Monday that national security adviser Michael Flynn held just two phone calls with Russia's ambassador to Washington, amid reports that Flynn's communications are being scrutinized by U.S. counterintelligence agents.
Reuters reported earlier this month, citing three sources familiar with the matter, that Flynn had held five phone calls with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak on Dec. 29, the day then-President Barack Obama retaliated for Moscow's interference in the U.S. presidential election.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Flynn spoke once by telephone to the envoy - he did not give the date - and discussed four topics. Those included a conference on Syria, a plane crash that killed members of a famous Russian military choir, seasonal wishes and setting up a post-inauguration call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump, he said.
On. Jan. 13, Spicer had said that Flynn and Kislyak had spoken on Dec. 28 and suggested the sole topic had been the logistics of setting up an eventual call between Trump and Putin. At the time, a Trump aide had said the one conversation actually had taken place on Dec. 29.
On Monday, Spicer said a second call took place three days ago, apparently just before Trump's inauguration on Friday, and dealt with arranging a forthcoming phone call between Trump and Putin.
Two of the sources told Reuters earlier this month that the timing of the December calls raised a question about whether Flynn had given Kislyak any assurances to soothe Russian anger over the U.S. sanctions and other moves.
The differing accounts of the number of calls could not be immediately reconciled.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that Flynn's calls with Kislyak on Dec. 29, as well as earlier calls he held with Russian figures, are under scrutiny as part of probes by the FBI, U.S. intelligence agencies and the Treasury Department into the extent of Russian government contacts with people close to Trump.
It is unclear whether the inquiry produced any incriminating evidence or if it is continuing, the newspaper said.
The Journal quoted White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders as saying: "We have absolutely no knowledge of any investigation or even a basis for such an investigation."
Asked whether there were other calls between Flynn and "members of the Russian government," Spicer replied, "Not that I'm aware of. And when I say that, what I'm saying (is) during the transition I asked General Flynn whether or not there were any other conversations beyond the ambassador and he said 'no.'"
Flynn is a retired Army general.
A Jan. 6 assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies said that Putin ordered an effort to help Trump's electoral chances by discrediting Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign.
(Reporting by Warren Strobel, Jonathan Landay and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Sandra Maler)