Donald Trump responded to a growing crisis surrounding his White House on Wednesday by rekindling a public war with the US intelligence community, accusing it of mounting a dirty tricks campaign to undermine his presidency by leaking information about his administration’s ties to Russia.
In an early-morning Twitter barrage the US president blamed the escalating crisis that forced this week’s departure of Michael Flynn, his national security adviser, on a conspiracy fuelled by a media driven by “blind hatred” and intelligence agencies seeking revenge.
“The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by “intelligence” like candy. Very un-American!” the president said in one tweet.
“Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?). Just like Russia,” he declared in another.
His intervention followed reports by CNN and the New York Times that US authorities had evidence that high-level officials in his campaign had been in regular contact with senior Russian intelligence officials throughout last year’s presidential run.
US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in an attempt to tilt it in Mr Trump’s favour. But any evidence that the Kremlin colluded with Mr Trump’s campaign while doing so would take those allegations to a new level.
Paul Manafort, who ran Mr Trump’s campaign until being dismissed in August following questions about his work for pro-Russian political leaders in Ukraine, denied having any links to the Kremlin or having any contact with Russian officials during the campaign.
“I have never had any involvement with [Russian leader Vladimir] Putin or the Russian government on any matter,” Mr Manafort told the Financial Times. “Furthermore, I have never knowingly spoken to Russian intelligence officers and I have never been involved in any projects that include the Russian government or the Putin administration or parties acting in concert with or on behalf of the Russian government.”
Mr Trump fired Mr Flynn on Monday, two weeks after the justice department told the White House the retired general had misled top Trump administration officials including vice-president Mike Pence about the nature of calls he had with the Russian ambassador to the US during the transition to power. According to reports, transcripts of those calls, which were monitored by US intelligence agencies, show Mr Flynn discussing new sanctions imposed on Moscow by the Obama administration in response to Russian hacking of Democratic party email servers, something he denied.
But the circumstances surrounding Mr Flynn’s calls with the ambassador and his dismissal has quickly grown into a wider scandal and questions over both the Trump administration’s connections to Russia and what has been an unusually chaotic start to his presidency.
Democrats in Congress and some leading Republicans have demanded an investigation into the links between Russia and Mr Trump’s administration as well as Mr Flynn’s interactions with the country. But the Republican leadership has so far resisted those calls.
Analysts said such an investigation may be the only way out for Republicans as they confront a new level of crisis.
The crisis surrounding the alleged Trump campaign links to Moscow is “completely unprecedented and puts the country on the cusp of a constitutional crisis”, said Thomas Wright, director of the project on international order and strategy at the Brookings Institution. “The only way through this is a full bipartisan investigation that gets to the bottom of Russia’s interference in US politics.”
In his tweets Mr Trump on Wednesday sought to defuse at least one line of attack by blaming Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine on his “weak” predecessor, Barack Obama.
“Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?” he said in one.
He also argued that the attacks on his administration were driven by a “fake news media” that was “going crazy with their conspiracy theories and blind hatred”.
“This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign,” he wrote.
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