Pressure rises on Trump as probes intensify, Republicans fret – Reuters

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By Ayesha Rascoe and Richard Cowan
| WASHINGTON

Pressure built on U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday as lawmakers intensified probes into his ouster of the FBI chief and possible collusion between his 2016 campaign and Russia, more fellow Republicans called for an independent investigation and one even mentioned impeachment, but Trump remained defiant.

The controversy spooked investors on Wall Street, but Trump delivered a message of “don’t give in, don’t back down” during a speech in Connecticut where he complained he was being treated more unfairly than any other politician ever.

The S&P 500 and the Dow had their biggest one-day declines since September as investor hopes for tax cuts and other pro-business policies faded amid the political controversy.

The tumult in Washington deepened over allegations Trump had sought to end the FBI’s investigation into ties between Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Russia. That raised questions about whether the president improperly attempted to interfere with a federal investigation.

Congressional committees sought public testimony from James Comey, whose firing as Federal Bureau of Investigation director last week triggered a political firestorm, as well as documents from the agency.

House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan insisted that Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress, were not seeing their legislative agenda mired.

Comey wrote a memo detailing how Trump commented to him in February that “I hope you can let this go,” referring to the Flynn probe, a source who has seen a memo written by Comey said on Tuesday.

Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer, reiterated the White House stance that the reports were “not an accurate description of how the event occurred.”

Comey wrote other memos on his dealings with Trump, the contents of which have yet to be revealed, an associate of Comey’s told Reuters.

“I think we need to hear from him as soon as possible in public to respond to the issues that have been raised in recent days,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told the Wall Street Journal, as the Senate’s intelligence and judiciary committees and a House oversight panel asked Comey to testify.

“I think it’s imperative that he appear before our committee about any potential obstruction of justice charge,” Republican Lindsey Graham, a senior Senate Judiciary Committee member.

Trump removed Comey in the middle of an FBI probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and possible ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia. In a separate but related probe, the FBI is looking into Flynn’s ties with Russia.

‘FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT’

Trump said in a speech to U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduates in Connecticut he did not get elected “to serve the Washington media or special interests.”

“Look at the way I have been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly,” Trump said.

In the face of unfairness, “you have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight. Never ever, ever give up. Things will work out just fine,” he said.

The president has long bristled at the notion that Russia played any role in his November election victory, but the Russia issue has clouded his early months in office. Moscow has denied U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion it meddled in the campaign to try to tilt the election in Trump’s favor.

Spicer said Trump on Wednesday would interview four candidates to head the FBI: acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman and former senior FBI official Richard McFeely.

Democratic lawmakers have demanded that the Justice Department name a special prosecutor to investigate the Russia matter. About 10 House Republicans and four Senate Republicans have called for some sort of independent investigation.

Interfering with a federal investigation might constitute obstruction of justice and could potentially be invoked in any attempt to impeach Trump.

Asked by reporters whether he thought the allegations against Trump were grounds for impeachment, Republican Representative Justin Amash said: “If the allegations are true, yes. But everybody in this country gets a fair trial, including the president or anyone else.”

Amash is a member of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus who has already has called for an independent commission to investigate. Asked if he trusted Comey or Trump, Amash replied: “I think it’s pretty clear I have confidence in Director Comey.”

It would be significant if more Republicans began to talk about impeaching the president and potentially removing him from office, as the party holds a majority in both chambers of Congress. A small number of Democrats have mentioned impeachment.

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski and Republican Adam Kinzinger both called on Wednesday for an independent commission or special prosecutor.

PUTIN’S OFFER

Word of the Comey memo followed a week of chaos at the White House after Trump fired the FBI director on May 9. Criticism of the president intensified after it emerged on Monday that he discussed sensitive national security information about Islamic State with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russia’s ambassador in Washington at a White House meeting last week.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Trump had not passed on any secrets to Lavrov. Putin made light of the matter at a news conference in Russia, saying Moscow was ready to hand a transcript of the meeting to U.S. lawmakers if that would help reassure them.

Most Republicans have said the current FBI probe and investigations in Congress into the Russia matter are sufficient. Ryan stuck to that line and told reporters on Wednesday he still has confidence in Trump.

“We need the facts,” Ryan said. “It is obvious there are some people out there who want to harm the president. But we have an obligation to carry out our oversight regardless of which party is in the White House.

(Additional reporting by Amanda Becker, Mark Hosenball, David Alexander, Doina Chiacu, Patricia Zengerle, Susan Heavey, Richard Cowan and Tim Ahmann in Washington, and Caroline Valetkevitch and Sinead Carew in New York; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Frances Kerry and Peter Cooney)