May 18, 2017 08:04
Stock markets tumbled, the dollar's value sank and worried Republicans wondered what else could go wrong Wednesday as President Donald Trump faced congressional inquiries into allegations he tried to derail an FBI investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn and disclosed classified intelligence to Russia.
"Nobody knows where this really goes from here," one White House official told Politico, a Washington political news site. "What is next?"
On the other side of the partisan divide, a small but growing number of Democrats are speaking openly about impeachment, arguing that Trump obstructed justice when he asked then-FBI Director James Comey to "go easy" in its probe of Flynn's ties to Russia.
That story, first broken by The New York Times, came on the heels of a Washington Post report saying Trump had discussed highly sensitive intelligence information supplied by Israel to two Russian diplomats during an Oval Office meeting last week.
Trump, meanwhile, seemed stung by the one-two punch of negative stories. His Twitter feed, which has been a much-used mode of reply to negative news coverage, was quiet.
The president ignored shouted questions from reporters Wednesday as he left the White House to address a graduation ceremony at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut, where a complaint about media coverage was his only reference to the controversy swirling around him.
"Look at the way I've been treated lately, especially by the media," he said. "No politician in history has been treated worse or more unfairly."
Afterward, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, White House spokesman Sean Spicer brushed aside questions about the congressional inquiries. He referred all questioners to the administration's only comment so far, a terse written statement that says "the president never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation." The statement describes The New York Times account as "not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president on Mr. Comey."
◆ Lawmakers Weigh In
On Capitol Hill Wednesday, lawmakers of both parties paraded to microphones to weigh in on Trump's travails. Republican Senator John McCain was quoted as saying the current scandal is reaching a "Watergate size and scale," a reference to the scandal that forced President Richard Nixon from office.
House Speaker Paul Ryan urged his fellow lawmakers to "dispassionately do our jobs and make sure the investigations follow the facts where they may lead." When a reporter asked afterward whether he still supports the president, Ryan was reported to have answered, "I do."
Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer called for appointment of a special prosecutor to take charge of an independent investigation. "Concerns about our national security, the rule of law, the independence of our nation's highest law enforcement agencies, are mounting in this land," Schumer said. "The country is being tested in unprecedented ways."
Representative Al Green, a Democrat, spoke on the House floor, saying that following the latest revelations, he had made up his mind to join fellow Democratic Representative Maxine Waters in calling for Trump's impeachment. "This is where I stand, I will not be moved. The president must be impeached," Green said.
The river of congressional concern over Trump's actions turned to a flood after House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, a Trump loyalist, demanded Tuesday that acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe produce within a week all information it has related to the Comey-Trump meeting at the White House. Chaffetz said Wednesday he was inviting Comey to appear before the committee when hearings begin May 24.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, urged Trump to immediately release all information that could refute Comey's charges.
"We are watching in real time an obstruction of justice case unfolding and the president of the United States has an obligation to be more forthcoming with any tapes, memos, memoranda, but in the meantime, there need to be subpoenas that will make sure all of this evidence is preserved and produced," Blumenthal said.
◆ Paper Trail
The initial New York Times report published late Tuesday said Comey had written a memo detailing his conversation with Trump, which was part of a paper trail Comey created to document his perception that the president's request was improper.
The Times reported that an FBI agent's contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.
Former FBI Assistant Director Ron Hosko, now president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, said he thinks Trump may have underestimated Comey who, as a career FBI investigator, had been trained to make copious notes of his conversations. Hosko expressed skepticism, however, that Trump's request to "go easy" on the Flynn probe would rise to the level of obstruction of justice.
"There was no real result. There was presumably no conspiracy, no third party involved," Hosko told VOA. "It was treated as a casual, if regrettable, conversation or comment by the president. Certainly, it should never have been made. But I think most people would say that, alone, would fall short of a crime."
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