Lawmakers push for answers on Trump team's Russia ties
WASHINGTON -- A crisis over the relationship between President Donald Trump's aides and Russia deepened Wednesday as a growing number of Trump's fellow Republicans demanded expanded congressional inquiries into the matter.Trump sought to focus at...
WASHINGTON - A crisis over the relationship between President Donald Trump's aides and Russia deepened Wednesday as a growing number of Trump's fellow Republicans demanded expanded congressional inquiries into the matter.
Trump sought to focus attention on what he called criminal intelligence leaks about his ousted national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Trump forced Flynn out on Monday after disclosures he had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador to the United States before Trump took office, and that he later misled Vice President Mike Pence about the conversations.
The drama of Flynn's departure was the latest in a series of White House missteps and controversies since the Republican president was sworn in on Jan. 20.
At a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, Trump said Flynn, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, was a "wonderful man" who had been mistreated by the news media.
After Trump pointed his finger at the media and the intelligence and law enforcement communities, press secretary Sean Spicer endured a barrage of questions from reporters not just on Flynn’s dismissal, but also about a New York Times report that Trump campaign officials were in direct contact with Russian intelligence officials, long denied by Trump aides.
Spicer echoed Trump’s stated concern over leaks to reporters, which the president called “a criminal act.”
But Republican Trump critics including Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham voiced fresh consternation about the revelations. Adding to the pressure were comments by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, who has been a Trump supporter.
Corker said the Russia issue was threatening Trump's agenda on foreign affairs and domestic matters such as health care and tax policy. He questioned whether the White House was able to stabilize itself and said Flynn should testify before Congress.
"Let's get everything out as quickly as possible on this Russia issue," Corker told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program. "Maybe there's a problem that obviously goes much deeper than what we now suspect."
Democrats, doubting Trump's Justice Department or the Republican-led Congress will pursue the matter vigorously, have demanded an independent investigation of possible illegal communications between Flynn and the Russian government and any efforts by Flynn or other White House officials to conceal wrongdoing.
The most powerful Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, said Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a close ally of Trump, must recuse himself from any investigation.
The Republican and Democratic leaders of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee asked Sessions and FBI Director James Comey on Wednesday to send the committee documents and provide a briefing on Flynn's resignation.
Citing reports that both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Justice Department were involved in events leading to Flynn's departure, Sens. Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein said they raised "substantial questions" about Flynn's discussion with Russian officials.
Graham called for a broader bipartisan congressional investigation to be conducted by a newly formed special committee rather than existing committees, if it turns out Trump's presidential campaign communicated with the Russians.
But the top Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives have insisted the matter be investigated by existing Republican-led committees.
The Senate and House Intelligence Committees and a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary committee previously announced they launched investigations into alleged Russian efforts to influence the election through computer hacking.
The FBI recently questioned Flynn about his telephone contacts with the Russian ambassador in Washington. People familiar with the agency's multiple probes said there was no evidence so far of pre-election collusion between Russians and Trump's campaign, or any evidence of criminal activity by Flynn or anyone else connected to Trump.
The Trump administration has offered Flynn's former job to U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Robert Harward, said two U.S. officials familiar with the matter. It was not immediately clear if Harward, a former deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, had accepted the offer, according to sources.
The Tribune Washington Bureau contributed to this report.