Trump showdown with Democrats escalates over Russia probe

US House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff, a foe of President Donald Trump, faced intense criticism by Republicans, who called for his resignation during a hearing on March 28, 2019 (AFP Photo/MANDEL NGAN)

Washington (AFP) - Donald Trump and other Republicans demanded the ouster of a senior congressional Democrat on Thursday for repeatedly claiming collusion between by the president's campaign and Russia.

"Congressman Adam Schiff, who spent two years knowingly and unlawfully lying and leaking, should be forced to resign from Congress!" Trump tweeted about the House Intelligence Committee chairman.

Schiff has continued his accusations after Attorney General Bill Barr announced Sunday that a nearly two-year investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller had cleared the president of collusion with Russia.

On Fox News, Trump branded Schiff "a bad guy" who may have committed unspecified crimes "because he was making horrible statements that he knew were false."

Republican lawmakers followed Trump's lead during combative opening minutes of an intelligence hearing when a congressman read a letter by the committee's nine Republicans calling for Schiff's resignation as chairman.

"Your willingness to continue to promote a demonstrably false narrative is alarming," congressman Mike Conaway said, adding that Schiff "abused" his position to spread falsehoods.

A fiery Schiff pushed back, saying Republicans "may think it's OK" that Trump's and his team's behavior in 2016 triggered multiple investigations.

He pointed to Trump welcoming Russia to hack Hillary Clinton's emails, Trump's son meeting with Russians in Trump Tower seeking "dirt" on Clinton, and Trump's national security advisor appointee secretly conferring with Russia's ambassador about sanctions, then lying to the FBI about it.

"You might say that's all OK. You might say that's just what you need to do to win," Schiff said.

"But I don't think it's OK. I think it's immoral, I think it's unethical, I think it's unpatriotic. And yes, I think it's corrupt and evidence of collusion."

Republican Mike Turner was livid, saying Schiff "attacked in true McCarthy fashion each and every one of us," referring to 1950s US senator Joseph McCarthy, who smeared politicians by alleging they were Communists or Soviet spies.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rushed to Schiff's defense, and took aim at Trump.

"What is the president afraid of?" she told reporters. "Is he afraid of the truth?"

The exchanges marked a dramatic escalation between Trump and the Democrats after Mueller submitted his report on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election that brought the president to office.