— -- Possible links between the Trump campaign and Russian officials were a major point of contention during the 2016 election, and now information has come to light raising questions about the length and depth of the alleged connections.
Sources familiar with the matter have confirmed to ABC News that in the time leading up to the presidential election, U.S. authorities were looking into communications between several Trump associates and suspected Russian intelligence officials.
The New York Times first reported this news stating that according to several current and former U.S. officials, several Trump associates inside and outside the campaign -- including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort -- had repeated contact with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before election.
The communications were reportedly first detected through routine surveillance before the FBI asked the National Security Agency to collect more information. But authorities have yet to find evidence of any cooperation between the campaign officials and Russian intelligence officers, The New York Times reported
As part of its inquiry, the F.B.I. obtained banking and travel records of unspecified individuals and conducted interviews, The Times reported.
What Trump Has Said on the Issue
In January, then-President-elect Donald Trump gave a blanket denial that he or anyone on his campaign had any contact with Russia leading up to or during the campaign, saying "no, not at all" when ABC News asked him about it during a Jan. 11 news conference.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday during his daily press briefing that nothing has changed on that front.
"There's nothing that would conclude me that anything different has changed with respect to that time period," Spicer said when specifically asked whether anyone on the Trump campaign, including retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who resigned this week as national security adviser, had contact with the Russians before the election.
A Key Player Responds
Former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort told ABC News today the report published in the Times is "completely ridiculous."
"No, never, I never spoke to the Putin government and I never had any involvement with anything like this," Manafort said.
"I have never knowingly spoken to Russian intelligence officers, and I have never been involved with anything to do with the Russian government or the Putin administration or any other issues under investigation today.”
One possible explanation is that Trump officials may have had conversations with people not known to them as Russian intelligence officials.
In his interview with The Times, Manafort said, "It’s not like these people wear badges that say, 'I’m a Russian intelligence officer.'"
What Remains Unclear
The two biggest areas of uncertainty are what may have been discussed and who may have been involved.
While The Times said authorities have yet to find evidence of cooperation between the campaign officials and Russian intelligence officers, it is still not known what exactly they reportedly talked about.
And while certain conversations that Manafort and Flynn had with Russian officials have been confirmed, there are two other people reported to have ties: former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, who denied ever meeting with Russian officials on Trump's behalf, and Trump associate and longtime Republican operative Roger Stone, though it is unclear whether those four individuals are the only ones involved.
Stone tweeted out a message this morning saying "New York Times re-cycles the same bogus story on Russian influence on Trump election - still provides no proof. #Fake #News."
The Hill Reacts
Sen. Lindsey Graham said the matter needs to be looked into further and a broader bipartisan investigation may need to be called.
"If there's contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence officials outside the norm, that’s not only big league bad, that’s a game changer," Graham, R-S.C., said in an interview on "Good Morning America."
He continued, "Because if it is true, it is very very disturbing to me and Russia needs to pay a price when it comes to interfering in our democracy and other democracies, and any Trump person who was working with the Russians in an unacceptable way also needs to pay a price."
However, Sen. Rand Paul, Trump's former rival, said that "it makes no sense" for Republicans to spend time investigating anything involving the Trump team.
"I just don’t think it’s useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party,” Paul said on Fox's "Kilmeade and Friends" radio Tuesday. "We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do like repealing Obamacare if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense."
Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, are calling for an a bipartisan commission to be convened.
"The FBI must accelerate its investigation of the Russian connection with the Trump administration, and Congress must call for a bipartisan, independent, outside commission to fully investigate Russia's influence on the administration and the election," Pelosi said.
ABC News' Mike Levine, Jonathan Karl, Justin Fishel and Morgan Winsor contributed to this report.