Lawmakers React to Latest Trump-Russia Bombshell: ‘What Now?!’
Report: President asked two top intel officials to deny collusion with Moscow
BY JOHN T. BENNETT, LINDSEY McPHERSON AND REMA RAHMAN
Lawmakers on Monday evening seemed resigned to yet another bombshell report suggesting President Donald Trump attempted to interfere with a federal investigation aimed at, in part, determining whether there was collusion between his campaign and the Russia government.
Though many had yet to read Monday evening’s potentially explosive Washington Post story, some Democrats suggested it adds to what they see as mounting evidence that the president tried to influence an ongoing federal investigation. Some Republicans sought to give Trump some political cover.
The Post reported that Trump asked Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers to publicly deny there was any such nefarious ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
“No. What now?!” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said when asked if he had seen the Post story.
“Just keeps coming,” he said after a being given a summary of the report.
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House Intelligence member Jim Himes said the story should not be surprising. If Trump tried to influence former FBI Director James B. Comey, he likely did the same with other senior government officials, the Connecticut Democrat said.
“At best, it’s unseemly to try and stop an investigation of which you are the subject,” Himes said. “The question for all of us is does this rise to the level of obstruction, which is a very serious matter. I think we need to see more than just news reports; we need to see evidence.”
Specifically, the Post reported that current and former intelligence officials described Trump making separate asks of Coats and Rogers to deny the existence of any evidence pointing to collusion during the 2016 campaign.
The alleged requests came after Comey told lawmakers on March 20 that an FBI probe of Russia’s election meddling included examining “the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.” Both intelligence officials declined to issue the denials.
Trump eventually fired Comey on May 9, but a memo eventually leaked documenting a conversation in which Comey alleged the president asked him to end an investigation into his first national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. That, in part, prompted Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint another former FBI director, Robert Mueller, as special counsel to take over the bureau’s probe.
As with Comey, the Post reported the existence of a NSA memo detailing Rogers’ conversation with Trump.
Other lawmakers, like senior House Freedom Caucus member Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, reported not yet having seen the Post story, despite their best efforts to keep up with the wave of Trump-Russia news in recent weeks.
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Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who chairs the Freedom Caucus, also had not read the article as he left a Monday evening vote. But Meadows, who worked closely with Trump and White House officials on the House’s successful second try to pass a health care overhaul bill, did try to provide the president some political cover.
Meadows said he has yet to see any evidence of collusion. He added that if Trump or other White House officials were going to ask anyone to push back on the FBI, it would be him — but, as of Monday evening, such a request had not been made.
One senior House Democrat said the report might compel lawmakers to call “relevant officials” to testify — and obtain the alleged NSA memo.
House Intelligence ranking member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said in a statement the alleged requests of Coats and Rogers, “if true, are yet another disturbing allegation that the President was interfering in the FBI probe.
“If further reports are accurate that White House staff also tried to persuade personnel at these agencies to help get FBI Director Comey to back off an investigation involving Michael Flynn,” Schiff said, “the specter of possible obstruction has grown larger and more troubling.”
House Foreign Affairs ranking member Eliot L. Engel had also not yet seen the report. But he said it would be “very disturbing,” if true.
“I think the truth eventually comes out,” the New York Democrat said, “and the truth sets you free.”