A growing number of Republicans on Wednesday called for an independent probe of possible collusion between Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia, spurred by a memo by the fired FBI chief stating the president tried to stop the inquiry.
James Comey, whose firing as FBI director last week triggered a political firestorm, wrote a memo detailing how Trump had told him in February “I hope you can let this go,” in reference to the FBI’s investigation into ties between Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Russia.
The Comey memo caused alarm on Capitol Hill and raised questions about whether Trump attempted to interfere with a federal investigation. The White House denied the report, saying it was “not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”
Democratic lawmakers have demanded that the Justice Department name a special prosecutor to investigate potential ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia. On Wednesday, they said they would try to force a vote in the House of Representatives on forming an independent commission.
A few Republicans have started to call for an independent probe as well.
“If in fact what was in the memo is true, it’s very concerning, and we need to get to the bottom of that,” Republican Adam Kinzinger, a member of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said on CNN. “I think we are in the position now where it’s time for an independent commission or a special prosecutor or whatever.”
The latest developments have overshadowed the policy goals of Trump’s Republican Party in Congress, including major healthcare legislation and tax cuts.
On Wednesday, the Dow Jones fell more than 300 points on deepening worries about the latest news in Washington.
'We need facts'
Still, Republicans like Kinzinger remain in the minority. Most maintain that the current FBI probe and investigations in the Republican-led Congress are sufficient.
House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan stuck to that line and told reporters on Wednesday he still has confidence in Trump.
“We need the facts,” Ryan said. “It is obvious there are some people out there who want to harm the president. But we have an obligation to carry out our oversight regardless of which party is in the White House.”
“I’m sure we’re going to go on to hear from Mr. Comey about why, if this happened as he allegedly describes, why didn’t he take action at the time? So there are a lot of unanswered questions.”
Some legal analysts have said Trump’s possible pressure on Comey to end the Flynn probe and his decision to fire the FBI chief in the midst of the agency’s investigation of the Russia matter could amount to obstruction of justice, a charge that could be invoked in any attempt to impeach Trump and remove him from office.
Ryan declined to wade into whether Trump obstructed justice – a crime under US law.
"We can't deal with speculation and innuendo, and there's clearly politics being played. Our job is to get the facts and be sober about doing that," he said.
Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said pressure was mounting on Ryan to allow a vote on legislation creating an independent commission to take up the investigation.
Schiff said impeachment is “not something to be lightly entertained. I think we follow the evidence, we obtain the evidence, we hear the testimony and then we decide just what does this show about the president’s conduct.”
Comey wrote the memo after he met in the Oval Office with Trump, the day after the president fired Flynn on Feb. 14 for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the extent of his conversations last year with Russia’s ambassador, Sergei Kislyak.
In a letter to acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe on Tuesday, the Republican chairman of a House of Representatives oversight committee, Jason Chaffetz, set a May 24 deadline for the FBI to produce all relevant material relating to any communications between Comey and Trump. Ryan backed Chaffetz’s request.
A Russian recording
Reports about the Comey memo followed a week of chaos at the White House after Trump fired Comey.
Criticism of the president intensified after it emerged on Monday that he had discussed sensitive national security information about the Islamic State (IS) group with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russia’s ambassador in Washington at a White House meeting last week.
On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow could provide a recording of a controversial exchange between Lavrov and Trump.
Putin mocked the idea that Trump had shared secrets during the meeting, calling the allegations "political schizophrenia" and saying people spreading them are either "dumb" or "corrupt."
Citing unnamed sources, the Washington Post had reported that Trump had shared intelligence with Lavrov regarding an IS group terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on airplanes.
According to sources cited in the report, that intelligence came from a US ally who had not authorised Washington to pass it on to Moscow. It later emerged that Israel was the original source of the recording.
A Kremlin aide, Yuri Ushakov, later told reporters Moscow had a written record of the conversation, not an audio recording.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2017-05-17