Trump attacks claims of ties between his team and Russia as ‘nonsense’

Trump angry

The president blames ‘fake news’ and intelligence leaks for the crises engulfing his White House.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday dismissed reports that his campaign was in frequent touch with senior Russian officials as “nonsense,” but his White House is facing a very real threat of growing calls for investigations into numerous controversies.

Trump has struggled to contain metastasizing crises, including sloppy executive orders, vicious infighting among his aides, combative calls with foreign allies, apparent ethics violations and a pile-up of evidence that Trump’s team has extensive ties with Russia that may have aided his victory.

The president, however, is on the offensive, blaming the media and the intelligence community for what he continues to call “fake news.”

“The fake news media is going crazy with their conspiracy theories and blind hatred. @MSNBC & @CNN are unwatchable. @foxandfriends is great!” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning.

“This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign,” he continued, also adding, “Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?).Just like Russia.”

He took one more shot at the intelligence community, with which he’s long had a rocky relationship, refusing to believe its assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed cyberattacks trying to tilt the election his way, and accusing intelligence officials of leaking.

“The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!” Trump wrote.

Wednesday’s outburst is only the latest in a string of insults Trump has hurled at the intelligence community, which the president has clashed badly with both before and since taking office. Last month, Trump lashed out at the intelligence community over a dossier containing scandalous but unverified information that he believed to have been leaked by someone in one of the nation’s various intelligence agencies.

The dossier’s publication by BuzzFeed prompted Trump to ask his followers on Twitter “are we living in Nazi Germany?” The comparison rankled many in the intelligence community just days before Trump was set to be inaugurated.

The latest scandal engulfing the White House is the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was asked to resign after it became public that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and others about his pre-inauguration phone call with the Russian ambassador, in which the two discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia. The furor intensified after reports, including from The New York Times, that members of Trump’s campaign and other allies had multiple contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials during the election season.

The revelations of potentially inappropriate contact with Russian officials is not only creating negative headlines but also pushing some Republicans to call for investigations into Trump’s White House.

Several Republican senators are pressing for a deeper look into Flynn’s actions, suggesting Congress could call him to testify as well as examine the transcripts of his calls with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday morning continued to resist the idea of creating a special committee to investigate allegations of Russia election meddling, but continued to say the Senate intelligence committee would examine the issue, which could also explore other Russia issues connected to Trump’s White House.

“We know they were messing around with it. We don’t think they have any impact on the outcome but, obviously, we are not going to ignore something like that,” McConnell said in an interview for MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that aired Wednesday but was taped on Tuesday.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s most vocal GOP critics on issues of foreign policy, was more open to the idea of a special committee during his own interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Graham said he and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) have begun a preliminary investigation into any communication between officials from Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin. Should they discover any such communication, Graham said it would be appropriate to create a joint select committee to investigate further.

“Any Trump person who was working with the Russians in an unacceptable way also needs to pay a price,” Graham said. “There are real members of Congress up here, Republicans and Democrats, who love our country and are going to make sure that checks and balances that have been in place for 200 years work, even when the president is in your own party.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, who said this week that Flynn might be asked to testify before lawmakers, on Wednesday said the controversies plaguing the White House need to be dealt with quickly, especially because they’re distracting from Republicans’ legislative agenda.

“There’s an issue of, is the White House going to have the ability to stabilize itself,” Corker said in a separate interview on “Morning Joe.” “The American people are counting on us to do big things this year.”

But Trump is not just battling crises related to his team’s Russia contacts. He also is facing increased concern about the off-the-cuff style of his top adviser Kellyanne Conway, who has been a chief presidential surrogate.

Cable networks have become more reluctant to book her, citing credibility issues, and on Tuesday, news emerged that the Office of Government Ethics has recommended that she be disciplined for aggressively promoting Ivanka Trump’s fashion line on Fox News after the president lashed out at luxury retailer Nordstrom for dropping her brand.

In another blow to the administration, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz is pressing the White House for details on why Trump conducted some of his response to a North Korean missile test in a public dining room at Mar-a-Lago last weekend.

There are also incessant reports of infighting among Trump’s aides. Chief of staff Reince Priebus and press secretary Sean Spicer have appeared particularly embattled, with some willing to openly question whether they have a long future in the West Wing. The position of Pence, too, has come under scrutiny since it became clear that Trump and other top aides were aware that Flynn had misled him but did not brief the vice president until it was reported in The Washington Post.

With the appearance of a White House under siege, Trump is going on the attack after the leaks that have streamed out about his administration and insisted that he will be tougher than President Barack Obama on Russia.

“Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?” Trump also tweeted Wednesday morning.

 

Karey Van Hall contributed to this report.

 

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