WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee accused President Donald Trump on Sunday of trying to divert Congress from its investigations of Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election and any links between Moscow and the Trump campaign.
Representative Adam Schiff said the Republican president and his aides have instead attempted to throw the focus on the
possibility of illegal leaks of classified information and whether Trump or his associates were caught up in incidental collection by surveillance that was targeting foreigners.
Congressional committees, along with the FBI, are investigating what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded were attempts by Russia to influence the Nov. 8 presidential election in Trump’s favor. They also are looking at any links between Russia and Trump.
Schiff said Trump himself tried to shift Congress’ focus away from that core mission of foreign intervention.
“I think his tweets tell the story,” Schiff said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And the story is look over there - at leaks, and look over there - at anything the Obama administration we can claim did wrong on incidental collection or anything else.”
“But whatever you do, under no circumstances look here, at me or at Russia,” he said.
Trump has repeatedly used Twitter to attack reports on Russian election meddling as “fake news” and “witch hunts” and denounce leakers of classified information on the issue.
“The real story turns out to be SURVEILLANCE and LEAKING! Find the leakers,” Trump said in a Twitter post on Sunday.
Republican Senator John Cornyn, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was asked about Trump’s Twitter commentary on the congressional investigations.
“Sometimes I think this is a distraction from what we should be doing,” Cornyn said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
The Senate panel intends to begin interviewing as many as 20 people, including Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and one of his closest advisers, as early as Monday.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Sunday there was no evidence of Trump collusion with Russia to win the election. “It’s time to move on,” she told Fox News.
On March 4, the president without giving evidence accused his Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, of ordering a wiretap of Trump Tower. No elected official, including from Trump’s Republican Party, has supported the claim.
But the Republican chairman of the House intelligence panel, Devin Nunes, set off a political firestorm on March 23 when he said the communications of members of Trump’s transition team were caught up in incidental surveillance targeting foreigners.
Nunes refused to share the source of his information, but the New York Times revealed last week that two White House officials provided him with the documents on the surveillance, which Trump said was somewhat vindication of his wiretap claim.
Schiff went to the White House on Friday to view the documents. Asked on CNN if he understood why Nunes had issues with the surveillance, Schiff would only say, “I don’t agree with the chairman’s characterization.”
Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Tim Ahmann and Pete Schroeder; Editing by Phil Berlowitz