Out like Flynn
Concerns grow amid reports that Trump campaign aides were in frequent contact with Russian officials before Nov. 8 election
Free Press staff, wire reports | 2/17/2017, 4:54 p.m.
The Democrats called for either a special counsel appointed by Mr. Sessions, or the creation of a bipartisan commission with subpoena power. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Mr. Sessions, a close ally of President Trump, must recuse himself from any investigation.
Sen. 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 that the Trump presidential campaign communicated with the Russians.
“It’s time for us to look into all things related to Russia’s involvement in 2016,” Sen. Graham told reporters, referring to last year’s election.
But the top Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives have insisted the matter be investigated by existing Republican-led committees.
U.S. intelligence agencies previously concluded that Russia hacked and leaked Democratic emails during the election campaign as part of efforts to tilt the vote in Mr. Trump’s favor.
Some experts expressed concern the White House could curtail or divert probes into Mr. Flynn and Russian involvement in the election unless Congress becomes more aggressive by holding hearings and appointing an independent commission or special prosecutor into whether President Trump’s team violated federal laws in their contacts with Russia.
Intelligence agencies now overseen by President Trump may not be ideally suited to the job, they added.
“It’s not, at the end of the day, the job of the intelligence community to regulate the White House — and it shouldn’t be,” said Stephen Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor who focuses on constitutional law and national security.
Mr. Flynn was abruptly forced out by President Trump on Monday after disclosures he had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador before Mr. Trump took office, and that he had later misled Vice President Pence about the conversations.
The Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon spy agency once headed by Mr. Flynn, formally suspended his security clearance denying him access to classified information, DIA spokesman James Kudla said.
The drama of Mr. Flynn’s departure was the latest in a series of White House missteps and controversies since President Trump was sworn in on Jan. 20.
In Twitter posts on Wednesday, President Trump called the reported Russian connection with his campaign team nonsense, adding: “The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!”
At a news conference later with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Trump charged that intelligence leaks to the news media were “a criminal act.” He said Mr. Flynn, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, was “a wonderful man” who has been treated “very, very unfairly by the media.”
But White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Tuesday that President Trump asked for Mr. Flynn’s resignation because of the president’s “eroding level of trust” in Mr. Flynn after a series of “questionable instances.”
Mr. Spicer on Tuesday also denied there had been any contact between any member of the Trump campaign team and Russia.
From early on in his White House bid, President Trump said he would like improved relations with Russian President Putin, a stance criticized by Democrats and also by some Republicans concerned about Washington softening its stance after Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and aggression in Syria.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called on the FBI to expedite an investigation into the financial, personal and political ties of President Trump and members of his administration to the Russians.
“There are suspicions that have arisen about the president of the United States,” Rep. Pelosi said, including behavior she called “very dangerous to the national security of our country,” including poor judgment in appointing Mr. Flynn.
The Trump administration has offered Mr. Flynn’s former job to U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Robert Harward, said two officials familiar with the matter. It was not immediately clear if Vice Adm. Harward, a former deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, had accepted the offer, according to sources.