Pressure mounts over Trump-Russia ties

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Donald Trump salutes as he walks past Michael Flynn last week. AFP

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A crisis over the relationship between President Donald Trump’s aides and Russia has deepened as a growing number of Mr. Trump’s fellow Republicans demanded expanded congressional inquiries into the matter.
Mr. Trump sought to focus attention on what he called criminal intelligence leaks about his ousted national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Mr. Trump forced Mr. Flynn out on Monday after disclosures he had discussed US sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador to the United States before Mr. Trump took office, and that he later misled Vice-President Mike Pence about the conversations.
The drama of Mr. Flynn’s departure was the latest in a series of White House missteps and controversies since the Republican president was sworn in on January 20.
At a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, Mr. Trump said Mr. Flynn, a retired army lieutenant general, was a “wonderful man” who had been mistreated by the news media.
But Mr. Trump’s critics including Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham voiced fresh consternation. Adding to the pressure were comments by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, who has been a supporter of Mr. Trump.
Mr. Corker said the Russia issue was threatening Mr. Trump’s agenda on foreign affairs and domestic matters like healthcare and tax policy. He questioned whether the White House was able to stabilize itself and said Mr. Flynn should testify before Congress.
“Let’s get everything out as quickly as possible on this Russia issue,” Mr. Corker told MSNBC. “Maybe there’s a problem that obviously goes much deeper than what we now suspect.”
Democrats, doubting Mr. Trump’s Justice Department or the Republican-led Congress will pursue the matter vigorously, have demanded an independent investigation of possible illegal communications between Mr. Flynn and the Russian government and any efforts by Mr. 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 Mr. Trump, must recuse himself from any investigation.
The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked Mr. Sessions and FBI Director James Comey on Wednesday to send the committee documents and provide a briefing on Mr. Flynn’s resignation.
Citing reports that both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Justice Department were involved in events leading to Mr. Flynn’s departure, Senators Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein said they raised “substantial questions” about Mr. Flynn’s discussion with Russian officials.
Mr. 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 Mr. 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 have announced they launched investigations into alleged Russian efforts to influence the election through computer hacking.
US intelligence agencies previously concluded that Russia hacked and leaked Democratic emails during the presidential campaign as part of efforts to tilt the vote in the November 8 election in Mr. Trump’s favor.
Congressional inquiries into alleged Russian interference in the US elections are gaining momentum as Capitol Hill investigators press intelligence and law enforcement agencies for access to classified documents.
The FBI and several US intelligence agencies are investigating Russian espionage operations in the United States. They are also looking at contacts in Russia between Russian intelligence officers or others with ties to President Vladimir Putin’s government and people connected to Mr. Trump or his campaign.

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