TrumpWatch, Day 315: Trump Pressed GOP Senators to End Russia Inquiry

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Donald Trump gestures at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Were Trump’s calls to lawmakers inappropriate?


Developments on Day 315 of the Trump Administration:

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Trump’s Latest Intervention to Curb Investigation

Donald Trump has urged leading GOP senators to conclude hearings into links between his advisors and Russian officials.

Trump repeatedly urged the Republicans — including Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee — to end the investigation, according to “a half dozen lawmakers and aides”.

Burr said in an interview, “It was something along the lines of, ‘I hope you can conclude this as quickly as possible.’” The chairman said he replied, “When we have exhausted everybody we need to talk to, we will finish.”

Burr acknowledged other members of his committee have had similar discussions with Trump. One of them was Senator Roy Blunt, who was flying on Air Force One with Trump to Missouri in August when he was lobbied “to wrap up this investigation”, according to “a Republican official familiar with the conversation”.

Another Republican senator said Trump called other legislators, telling them to press Burr to bring the Russia investigation to a close.

The senators said that Trump also expressed anger in conversations with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Trump told McConnell and Blunt to end the investigation swiftly.

Deputy White House Press Secretary Raj Shah insisted that Trump “at no point has attempted to apply undue influence on committee members” and believes “there is no evidence of collusion and these investigations must come to a fair and appropriate completion”.

Trump is already reportedly under scrutiny by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for obstruction of justice. The interventions included the firing of FBI Director James Comey in May and, according to multiple sources, Trump’s dictation of a false statement by his son Donald Jr. about a June 2016 meeting with three Kremlin-linked envoys.


White House Presses Tillerson With Talk of His Replacement

The White House puts pressure on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, leaking the story that he may be replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

On Thursday “senior administration officials” told multiple outlets, including the New York Times and Washington Post, of a plan to dismiss Tillerson, possibly within the next several weeks. Pompeo would probably be succeeded at the CIA by Senator Tom Cotton, who has no experience with intelligence services but has been a key legislative ally of the Administration.

While circulating the plan, the officials stopped short of saying it will be implemented, saying Trump has not yet signed off on it.

Hosting the Crown Prince of Bahrain on Thursday, Trump was asked by reporters if he wanted Tillerson to stay.

Trump replied, “He’s here. Rex is here.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders later issued a statement that “there are no personnel announcements at this time”. She told reporters:

When the president loses confidence in someone, they will no longer serve in the capacity that they’re in. The President was here today with the Secretary of State. They engaged in a foreign leader visit and are continuing to work together to close out what we’ve seen to be an incredible year.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said White House Chief of Staff John Kelly called Margaret Peterlin, Tillerson’s chief of staff, to tell her that reports of the Secretary of State’s imminent dismissal were false.

Diplomats and analysts assess that Pompeo — a former conservative Representative from Kansas — will be more hawkish on issues such as North Korea and Iran, in contrast to the pragmatic emphasis of former Exxon CEO Tillerson.


White House: Trump Didn’t Know He Was Retweeting Far-Right British Group

Defending Donald Trump’s circulation of Islamophobic videos, the White House says he did not know he was retweeting material from a far-right British group.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked Thursday if Trump realized that the fake and distorted videos were posted by Jayda Fransen, is the deputy leader of Britain First:

No, I don’t believe so. But I think he knew what the issues are, and that is that we have a real threat of extreme violence and terrorism, not just in this country but across the globe, particularly in Europe.

Trump’s account took the first of Fransen’s three videos from a retweet by far-right US agitator Ann Coulter. However, the other two videos appear to have been taken directly from Fransen’s account.

Fransen’s bio on the Twitter account reads, “Deputy Leader of @BritainFirstHQ”.

Sanders maintained that, by sharing the videos, Trump sought to “elevate the conversation” around terrorism.

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