Dems vow to step up scru­tiny of Trump on Krem­lin deal­ings

He slams ques­tion about whether he acted for Moscow

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - NATION & WORLD - BY LAURA KING

WASHINGTON — Con­gres­sional Democrats on Sun­day pledged height­ened scru­tiny of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s deal­ings with Rus­sia, spurred by news re­ports of ex­tra­or­di­nary se­crecy sur­round­ing his con­ver­sa­tions with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and the open­ing in 2017 of an FBI coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether Trump worked on be­half of the Krem­lin.

Trump’s Repub­li­can al­lies in Congress and his ad­min­is­tra­tion de­fended him, im­pugn­ing the mo­tives of fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors, in­sist­ing the White House had been tough on Rus­sia, and de­nounc­ing as “lu­di­crous” any sug­ges­tion that Trump had been com­pro­mised by Moscow.

The pres­i­dent called into a con­ser­va­tive talk show on Satur­day night to de­nounce a re­port in the New York Times that in 2017, af­ter Trump fired FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey, the FBI opened a coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether the pres­i­dent was act­ing as an agent for Rus­sia.

Asked on Fox News whether he had ever “worked for Rus­sia,” Trump fumed, but did not take the op­por­tu­nity to di­rectly re­spond to the query.

“I think it’s the most in­sult­ing thing I’ve ever been asked –– I think it’s the most in­sult­ing ar­ti­cle I’ve ever had writ­ten,” he said.

The pres­i­dent 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 the penal­ties in place.

On Sun­day news shows, sev­eral lead­ing con­gres­sional Democrats ex­pressed deep­en­ing con­cerns over Trump and Rus­sia, af­ter the New York Times re­port and a Washington Post story about Trump’s ef­forts to con­ceal what was said in meet­ings with Putin over the past two years.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said on “Fox News Sun­day” that word of a coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence in­ves­ti­ga­tion was “alarm­ing,” and that it showed the need for the widerang­ing Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion by spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller to pro­ceed unim­peded.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that open­ing a coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a sit­ting pres­i­dent shows that the FBI must have had a “very deep level of con­cern.”

Rep. Eliot En­gel, D-N.Y., who now heads the House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, said his panel would hold hear­ings about what he called Trump’s “bizarre re­la­tion­ship with Putin and his cronies.”

In a state­ment is­sued Satur­day night, En­gel sug­gested that se­crecy about what was said when Trump met with the Rus­sian leader –– to the ex­tent of keep­ing his na­tional se­cu­rity team in the dark — was of paramount con­cern.

“Ev­ery time Trump meets with Putin, the coun­try is told noth­ing,” En­gel said. “Amer­ica de­serves the truth, and the For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee will seek to get to the bot­tom of it.”

Repub­li­can al­lies of the pres­i­dent said the acts of con­ceal­ment de­scribed by the Post, in­clud­ing Trump’s de­mand that an in­ter­preter hand over the U.S. side’s only notes of a pri­vate meet­ing with Putin in Ham­burg, Ger­many, were well within his author­ity.

Sen. Ron John­son, R-Wis., said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Trump “has un­ortho­dox means. But he is pres­i­dent of the United States. It’s pretty much up to him in terms of who he wants to read in to his con­ver­sa­tions with world lead­ers.”

Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, who is trav­el­ing in the Mid­dle East, dis­missed the pos­si­bil­ity that Trump acted on Rus­sia’s be­half, call­ing it an “ab­so­lutely lu­di­crous” no­tion.

How­ever, Vir­ginia’s Warner said it was “cu­ri­ous” that as in­ves­ti­ga­tions were be­gin­ning in 2017, “you had Vladimir Putin poli­cies al­most be­ing par­roted by Don­ald Trump.”

Asked on CNN whether he thought Trump ever worked on be­half of the Rus­sians and against Amer­i­can in­ter­ests, Warner said: “That’s the defin­ing ques­tion of our in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion. “You had Trump say only nice things about Putin. He never spoke ill about Rus­sia.”

Also Sun­day, Se­nate Demo­cratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said he will force a vote in the com­ing days on the Trea­sury Depart­ment’s de­ci­sion to ease sanc­tions on three com­pa­nies con­nected to Rus­sian oli­garch Oleg Deri­paska.

Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin last week de­fended the de­ci­sion, say­ing the com­pa­nies are un­der­go­ing a ma­jor re­struc­tur­ing to “sever Deri­paska’s con­trol and sig­nif­i­cantly di­min­ish his own­er­ship.” He said Deri­paska him­self and any com­pa­nies he con­trols re­main un­der sanc­tions.

Schumer, how­ever, con­tends the Rus­sian oli­garch main­tains sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ence on these com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing the alu­minum man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Rusal, and said it’s im­por­tant the sanc­tions re­main in place while Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion pro­ceeds. Deri­paska has fig­ured into the in­ves­ti­ga­tion due to his ties to for­mer Trump cam­paign chair­man Paul Manafort.

Warner pre­dicted some Repub­li­cans in the GOP-con­trolled Se­nate would join Democrats in vot­ing to over­ride the re­moval of these sanc­tions.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said Sun­day on Fox News that “If you ask the folks in Rus­sia, I’ve been tougher on Rus­sia than any­body else.” That claim was dis­puted by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.

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