At least nine people in Trump’s orbit had contact with Russians during campaign and transition

“I think the American public can fully appreciate that those are isolated, obviously disconnected events, quite small in number for a presidential campaign,” said Ty Cobb, a White House lawyer. “Nothing about the actual facts published to date suggests that the president while he was a candidate ever met a Russian, ever spoke to a Russian, or colluded with anybody.”

Experts who have studied Russian tactics see something different: a picture emerging of a concerted and multifaceted Kremlin effort to infiltrate Trump’s campaign.

“You’ve got some consistency here in terms of the Russian tradecraft . . . the general pattern of Russians appearing to try to find soft spots, to find the soft underbelly of the campaign to make contact,” said Steve Hall, who retired from the CIA in 2015 after 30 years running and managing Russia operations. “I just think there’s way too much smoke out there for there to be absolutely no fire.”