FBI IN­QUIRY INTO U.S. PRES­I­DENT

Trump dodges ques­tion on Rus­sia

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Dar­lene Su­perville

WASH­ING­TON• Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump avoided directly an­swer­ing when asked whether he cur­rently is or has ever worked for Rus­sia af­ter a pub­lished re­port said law en­force­ment of­fi­cials, con­cerned about his be­hav­iour af­ter he fired FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey in 2017, had be­gun in­ves­ti­gat­ing that pos­si­bil­ity.

Trump said it was the “most in­sult­ing” ques­tion he’d ever been asked.

The New York Times re­port Fri­day cited un­named for­mer law en­force­ment of­fi­cials and oth­ers fa­mil­iar with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Trump re­sponded to the story Satur­day dur­ing a tele­phone in­ter­view broad­cast on Fox News Chan­nel af­ter host Jea­nine Pirro, a per­sonal friend, asked the Rus­sia ques­tion.

“I think it’s the most in­sult­ing thing I’ve ever been asked,” Trump said. “I think it’s the most in­sult­ing ar­ti­cle I’ve ever had writ­ten, and if you read the ar­ti­cle you’ll see that they found ab­so­lutely noth­ing.”

Trump never an­swered Pirro directly, but went on to as­sert that no pres­i­dent has taken a harder stance against Rus­sia than he has.

“If you ask the folks in Rus­sia, I’ve been tougher on Rus­sia than any­body else, any other ... prob­a­bly any other pres­i­dent, pe­riod, but cer­tainly the last three or four pres­i­dents.”

Trump’s claim was dis­puted by Vir­ginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Demo­crat on the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee. He said al­most all the sanc­tions on Rus­sia arose not in the White House but in Con­gress, due to con­cerns by mem­bers of both par­ties about Moscow’s ac­tions. Warner ac­cused the White House of be­ing very slow to put in place the penal­ties.

The Times re­ported that FBI agents and some top of­fi­cials be­came sus­pi­cious of Trump’s ties to Rus­sia dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign but didn’t open an in­ves­ti­ga­tion at that time be­cause they weren’t sure how to ap­proach such a sen­si­tive probe.

Trump’s be­hav­iour in the days around Comey’s May 2017 fir­ing helped trig­ger the counter-in­tel­li­gence part of the probe, ac­cord­ing to the news­pa­per.

In the in­quiry, coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence in­ves­ti­ga­tors sought to eval­u­ate whether Trump was a po­ten­tial threat to na­tional se­cu­rity. They also sought to de­ter­mine whether Trump was de­lib­er­ately work­ing for Rus­sia or had un­in­ten­tion­ally been in­flu­enced by Moscow.

Trump tweeted early Satur­day that the re­port showed that the FBI lead­er­ship “opened up an in­ves­ti­ga­tion on me, for no rea­son & with no proof” af­ter he had fired Comey.

Robert Mueller took over the in­ves­ti­ga­tion when he was ap­pointed spe­cial coun­sel soon af­ter Comey’s fir­ing. The over­all in­ves­ti­ga­tion is look­ing into Rus­sian elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence and whether Trump’s cam­paign co-or­di­nated with the Rus­sians, as well as pos­si­ble ob­struc­tion of jus­tice by Trump. The Times says it’s un­clear whether Mueller is still pur­su­ing the coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence an­gle.

Demo­cratic Sen. Chris Coons said the re­port “may well sug­gest what it was that helped start this in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the first place.” He and other Demo­cratic se­na­tors said this re­port and oth­ers within the past week ques­tion­ing Trump’s be­hav­iour to­ward Rus­sia give new ur­gency to the need for the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion to be al­lowed to run its course.

A new re­port in The Wash­ing­ton Post said Trump went to ex­tra­or­di­nary lengths to con­ceal de­tails of his con­ver­sa­tions with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin even from high-rank­ing of­fi­cials in his own ad­min­is­tra­tion. The re­port cited un­named cur­rent and for­mer U.S. of­fi­cials.

In the Fox News in­ter­view, Trump ques­tioned why the news­pa­per made such a “big deal” out of his dis­cus­sions with Putin in Helsinki last sum­mer. “Any­body could have lis­tened to that meet­ing, that meet­ing is up for grabs.”

Re­pub­li­can Sen. Ron John­son de­fended the pres­i­dent, who he said was “burned ear­lier by leaks of other pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions.”

Re­pub­li­can Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, who is close to Trump and chairs the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, said he in­tends to ask the FBI di­rec­tor if there was a counter-in­tel­li­gence in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the pres­i­dent. “If this re­ally did hap­pen, Con­gress needs to know about it and what I want to do is make sure how could the FBI do that?”

Warner and John­son spoke on CNN’s State of the Union, while Coons and Gra­ham ap­peared on Fox News Sun­day.

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