(Bloomberg) -- Fresh reporting raises new questions about President Donald Trump’s possible Russian ties to Russia and emphasizes the need to ensure that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation reaches its conclusion without interference, Senate Democrats said Sunday.
The New York Times reported Friday that the FBI had opened a probe in 2017 to determine whether the president had worked, knowingly or unknowingly, on behalf of Russia and against U.S. national interests. On Saturday, a Washington Post story said Trump went to great lengths to hide details of his discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to a separate report in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, Trump didn’t have official note takers present during a more than two-hour meeting with Putin in Hamburg, Germany, in July 2017. Many top administration officials never were briefed on the discussion, the Journal said, citing several officials familiar with the matter.
It was the Russians who asked to have a note-taker present, but Trump asked then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to take notes with the intention of relaying the details to relevant officials afterward, the newspaper reported.
The reports build on previous questions about Trump’s connections with Russia that need to be investigated, Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election must be allowed to finish to provide the answers, he said.
That process will start with seeking assurances this week during the confirmation hearing for William Barr, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, said Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat.
“Bill Barr had better give us some rock -- ironclad, rock-bottom assurances in terms of his independence and his willingness to step back and let Mueller finish his job,” Durbin said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Trump lashed out Saturday at the New York Times story, which said his firing of former FBI Director James Comey prompted the FBI to open an investigation. The president said he fired Comey for cause, and that the probe was started “for no reason and with no proof” of wrongdoing. In an interview Saturday night, Trump also said he “couldn’t care less”’ if details from his conversations with Putin were released.
“It’s so ridiculous, these people make it up,” Trump told Jeanine Pirro on Fox News Channel’s “Justice With Judge Jeanine.” He added, as he did on Twitter on Saturday, that he’d been tougher on Russia than recent U.S. leaders.
Trump should be judged by his actions in response to questions about whether he was compromised by Russia, and investigations should “get past the innuendo,” Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Not Running, Flying
Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on NBC that he’ll consider whatever evidence is produced by Mueller but added, “I’m not going to base it on unsubstantiated media reports.”
The staff of Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has already sent 51 letters asking for documents related to investigations involving Trump that the panel may open, according to a story to air Sunday night on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” The issues include the private use of government-owned aircraft by cabinet members and the flow of foreign money into Trump’s businesses, an except released by the network said.
“We’ve got to hit the ground, not running, but flying,” Cummings said.
Putin’s policies have been “almost parroted” by Trump, and the latest coverage bolsters the case for opposing the Treasury Department’s plans to lift sanctions on three Russian companies linked to oligarch Oleg Deripaska, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on CNN. He said Democrats want to vote this week to ensure the sanctions are preserved.
“As more and more of this information comes out about ties between Trump and Trump officials and the Russians, it is the worst time to signal that we are going to take the pressure off oligarchs like Deripaska,” Warner said.
(Updates with Wall Street Journal report starting in third paragraph.)
--With assistance from Matthew G. Miller.
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