At least 16 Donald Trump associates had contact with Russia during his 2016 presidential campaign or transition, according to US media.

The damning list includes Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort — who are awaiting sentencing on criminal charges — as well as Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.

Each of them spoke with Russians in person or via phone calls, text messages and video chat.

Ivanka Trump, the daughter and assistant to President Donald Trump, speaks to the press standing next to Vice President Mike Pence, and his wife Karen. Photo / AP
Ivanka Trump, the daughter and assistant to President Donald Trump, speaks to the press standing next to Vice President Mike Pence, and his wife Karen. Photo / AP

The US President and his senior staff repeatedly denied any contact with Russia during the campaign. Trump has now admitted there may have been business talks, but insists that does not amount to the "collusion" in Russian election meddling that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating.

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On Friday, Mueller released a series of filings that linked Trump to criminal activity — trading political advantage for a lucrative business opportunity. He could face impeachment or even jail time over it.

"It is no longer journalistically sound to report on the Trump investigation as if it is a matter that may, or may not, yield damning information about the President," wrote Adam Davidson in the New Yorker — saying that it already has.

But Trump refuses to acknowledge this, posting a fresh barrage of tweets on Monday, in which he referred to his former lawyer Cohen's $188,000 hush payment to Stephanie Clifford, aka porn star Stormy Daniels, as "a simple private transaction".

Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat set to take over the House Judiciary Committee, said this would be an "impeachable offence".

Mueller's filings claimed Cohen "acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election" at the direction of Trump when he paid women to not go public about their alleged affairs with the presidential candidate.

Michael Cohen, former lawyer to President Donald Trump, leaves his apartment building on New York's Park Avenue. Photo / AP
Michael Cohen, former lawyer to President Donald Trump, leaves his apartment building on New York's Park Avenue. Photo / AP
Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn leaves federal courthouse in Washington. Photo / AP
Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn leaves federal courthouse in Washington. Photo / AP

Trump argued the payments, which he initially denied knowing about, were not campaign contributions because they came from his own funds. Federal law requires disclosure of payments made "for the purposes of influencing" an election.

The filings also revealed Cohen spoke about Trump's campaign with a Russian in November 2015 and lied to Congress over an ongoing Trump Tower Moscow deal, while former campaign chairman Manafort lied about his contact with a Russian official linked to Democrat email hacking.

Manafort, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy in September, will face a court hearing on Tuesday afternoon.

Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, leaves the Federal District Court after a hearing. Photo / AP
Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, leaves the Federal District Court after a hearing. Photo / AP

"What is obvious is that, despite Trump's denials, he and his campaign were involved in repeated, serious efforts to develop deep connections to Vladimir Putin's regime from the very beginning of Trump's run for the presidency," wrote James Risen in The Intercept.

Meanwhile, Trump lost White House chief of staff John Kelly and the expected successor to that role Nick Ayers, who announced on Sunday he would instead be resigning. Two sources told CNN Ayers had left because of Melania Trump, who has become increasingly vocal in West Wing staff matters.

And the mess could be linked to two other family members as well. Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner reportedly told others Kelly "shared damaging stories about them and had not always served the President well", according to the Washington Post.

Kelly joked the couple was "playing government" and thought they did not have to follow the rules. They should never have been brought into the White House, he added.

The President now urgently needs to work out who to install in the chief of staff job, according to reports, and is reportedly considering chairman of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus Mark Meadows.

Other potential names included Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, budget director Mick Mulvaney, former deputy campaign manager David Bossie, US trade representative Robert Lighthizer and New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who as an ex-government lawyer could help Trump in an impeachment fight.

On Sunday, the President tweeted that the "Fake News Media" was "totally out of its mind" and the "enemy of the people", that former FBI director James Comey's testimony was "untruthful" and that the "whole deal is a Rigged Fraud headed up by dishonest people who would do anything so that I could not become President".

But with Mueller cracking down, the loss of yet another staff member is bad news for Trump. The Democrats will take the majority in the House of Representatives in the new year, and are planning promised multiple investigations into the President's finances — again involving his family members.

With Robert Mueller cracking down, the loss of yet another staff member is bad news for Trump. Photo / AP
With Robert Mueller cracking down, the loss of yet another staff member is bad news for Trump. Photo / AP

"The President has now stepped into the same territory that ultimately led to President Nixon resigning the office," Senator Chris Murphy told the US ABC on Sunday. "President Nixon was an unindicted co-conspirator ... certainly a different set of facts."

With the country set to head into recession, Trump needs all the support he can find before 2020 arrives.

Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle arrive ahead of President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump for the lighting of the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. Photo / AP
Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle arrive ahead of President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump for the lighting of the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. Photo / AP

California Democrat Adam Schiff said there was a "very real prospect" he could be indicted on the day he leaves office and the "next president could have to decide whether to pardon him".

And his tainted gang of 16 may soon no longer be able to help him.

THE TRUMP 16

1. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort

2. Former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates

3. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn

4. White House senior adviser Jared Kushner

5. White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump

6. Trump Organisation executive Donald Trump Jr.

7. Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen

8. Former Attorney-General Jeff Sessions

9. Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos

10. Former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page

11. Former Trump campaign aide Roger Stone

12. Trump associate Erik Prince

13. Trump campaign adviser JD Gordon

14. White House official Avi Berkowitz

15. Former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo

16. Trump business associate Felix Sater