Donald Trump has accused his own intelligence agencies of illegally feeding “conspiracy theories” to the media over his team’s alleged links with Russia.
“The fake news media is going crazy with their conspiracy theories and blind hatred. @MSNBC & @CNN are unwatchable. @foxandfriends is great!” the President wrote on Twitter.
“This Russian connection non-sense [sic] is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign.
“Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?). Just like Russia.”
He went on to claim: “The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!”
Mr Trump also singled out a comment piece published by Bloomberg for praise, personally thanking the author for arguing that intelligence services should not interfere in politics.
His remarks came as US news coverage was dominated by unconfirmed allegations members of Mr Trump’s campaign team were in contact with Russian intelligence officials before the election.
The President appeared to be suggesting his own intelligence agencies were illegally feeding classified information to journalists, deepening a dispute that started with accusations of Russian interference in the election last year.
Mr Trump previously vented his fury at “illegal leaks” on Tuesday after his national security adviser was forced to resign.
It came just four months after the then presidential candidate told supporters in Pennsylvania “I love WikiLeaks”, having previously “sarcastically” called on Russia to hack and publish Ms Clinton’s emails.
Dismissing security concerns over the Democratic National Committee (DNC) leak at the time, he told Fox News: “The real problem is what was said in those emails.”
Broadcasters CNN and MSNBC are two of the American outlets most frequently attacked by the President, along with The Washington Post and The New York Times, which published the fresh allegations of talks between Mr Trump’s campaign team and Russia.
The newspaper reported that American law enforcement and intelligence agencies found “repeated contacts” between Mr Trump’s campaign staff and associates and senior Russian intelligence operatives in the year leading up to the election.
The communications were reportedly intercepted at the same time evidence of Russian involvement in the DNC hack was discovered, although officials said they found no evidence of the Trump team “colluding” with Russia on efforts to influence the result.
Seth Moulton, a former US Marine and Democratic member of the House of Representatives, said the unconfirmed allegations could amount to “treason”, as several senior Republicans called for a separate probe into Michael Flynn’s resignation.
Mr Trump’s former national security adviser stood down on Monday after admitting that he gave “incomplete information” to the Vice President over phone calls to the Russian ambassador in December.
Mr Flynn maintained he did not violate the Logan Act, which bans civilians from interfering in US diplomatic relations, and had not told Russia’s ambassador to the US sanctions would be reviewed in December.
“It wasn’t about sanctions, it was about the 35 guys who were thrown out,” he told news website The Daily Caller, referring to an order by Barack Obama that removed Russian diplomats from the US over allegations of interference in the presidential election.
Mr Flynn was reportedly questioned by the FBI on his conversations with the ambassador shortly after the new President took office.
The day after his resignation,The New York Times published its report on alleged contact between members of Mr Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence officials.
Russia dismissed the allegations. Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said: “Let’s not believe anonymous information. It’s a newspaper report which is not based on any facts.”
The reported intercepts have alarmed US intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in part because of the amount of contact allegedly occurring while Mr Trump was speaking glowingly about Mr Putin.
The pair have vowed to repair ties between the US and America and have spoken on the phone ahead of a meeting expected later this year.
Several of Mr Trump’s associates have had business dealings with Russia, including the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in his former role as chief executive of Exxon Mobil.
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, repeated denials of improper contact between Mr Trump’s aides and Russia at a press briefing before the latest allegations emerged on Tuesday.
Asked whether the Trump administration was undertaking efforts to examine contacts with Russia, he said there was “no new information”.
When challenged specifically on discussions held during the campaign, Mr Spicer said: “There’s nothing that would conclude me… that anything different has changed with respect to that time period.”
Mike Pence, the Vice President, also denied contact had taken place with Russia before the election in a Fox News interview on Sunday.
“Of course not. Why would there be any contact between the campaign?” he said. “This is all a distraction, and it’s all part of a narrative to delegitimise the election.”
In November, Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said there had been communication between the Russian government and members of Mr Trump’s political team.
“There were contacts,” he told Russian newswire Interfax. “We are doing this and have been doing this during the election campaign.”
But Hope Hicks, the spokes person for the President’s campaign, issued a denial at the time, saying members “had no contact with Russian officials”.