Trump dodges ques­tion on whether he’s worked for Rus­sia

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By 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 be­hav­ior 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 be­hav­ior in the days around Comey’s May

2017 fir­ing helped trig­ger the coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence 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 co­or­di­nated 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.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., 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 be­hav­ior 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.”

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

Trump’s lawyer Rudy Gi­u­liani told the Times he had no knowl­edge of the coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence in­quiry but said that since it was opened a year and a half ago and they hadn’t heard any­thing, ap­par­ently “they found noth­ing.”

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 coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence 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?”

Trump has re­peat­edly and vo­cif­er­ously de­nied col­lu­sion with the Rus­sians.

Also Sun­day, Se­nate Demo­cratic leader Chuck Schumer 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 saids 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 GOP­con­trolled Se­nate would join Democrats in vot­ing to over­ride the re­moval of these sanc­tions.

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

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump leads a round­table dis­cus­sion on bor­der se­cu­rity with lo­cal lead­ers Fri­day in the Cab­i­net Room of the White House in Wash­ing­ton.

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