Top White House aides have repeatedly denied that Trump has used any untoward influence
He has publicly called the investigation a "witch hunt"
It’s no secret that President Donald Trump wants the focus on the investigation into his campaign’s potential involvement with Russian meddling in the 2016 election to end.
But it is what he has done – both in public and private – that clearly show ending the focus on Russia is a key priority for Trump and his top aides.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that Trump pressed top Senate Republicans – namely Republican Sen. Richard Burr, the intelligence committee chairman – to end the committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Top White House aides have repeatedly denied that Trump has used any untoward influence to end investigations into Russia.
“The White House has been cooperative with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s inquiry and the President at no point has attempted to apply undue influence on committee members,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said Thursday.
But over the last 10 months, Trump, through a series of public statements, private meetings and administrative decisions, has sought to slow or end the series of swirling Russia investigations.
Trump’s decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey – which he later said was done, in part, because of the “Russian thing” – was the clearest attempt by the President to put an end to any investigations into Russian meddling.
According to a memo Comey wrote at the time, Trump asked the FBI director to drop the federal investigation into his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
” ‘I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go,’ ” Trump said, according to the Comey memo.
White House aides have denied that Comey’s recollection of the conversation was accurate. But Trump has admitted in a letter the two discussed the investigation, insisting the then-FBI director informed him “on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation.”
The Trump administration initially hung the decision on the recommendation of his deputy attorney general, who criticized Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.
“And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,’” he said.
Leaning on Congress
Burr, the North Carolina Republican who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The New York Times that Trump said he hoped the Senate “can conclude this as quickly as possible.”
Burr, according to the Times, told Trump he would end the investigation “when we have exhausted everybody we need to talk to, we will finish.”
Trump is not the only Republican anxious to end the investigations.
CNN interviewed more than two dozen lawmakers and aides on the three committees probing Russia’s election meddling and possible collusion with Trump’s team earlier this year, which highlighted the partisan tensions and suspicions bubbling beneath the surface – and increasingly out in the open.
“Nobody wants to move this so quickly that we miss something,” Sen. Jim Risch, a senior GOP member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said at the time. “The question is how many weak leads can you follow?”
“I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t be done this year,” said Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican who sits on the intelligence and judiciary committees.
A former Trump campaign aide who remains close with the White House told CNN on Friday that the “Russia investigation is wearing on all of us, the President most of all.”
“Not only is he watching his friends in the news, his agenda is being stifled by it all,” the former campaign aide added.
Fuming at Sessions
Trump has repeatedly fumed – in private and in public – about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from any current or future investigations into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Trump believes, according to numerous sources, that Sessions’ decision to recuse himself directly led to the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which has now wrapped up four of his former campaign aides.
The Trump-Sessions relationship grew so tense that Sessions offered to resign in June following a series of heated exchanges.
According to a New York Times report at the time, Trump called Session an “idiot” during a May 17 meeting with his top advisers and insisted he resign.
Trump is rarely subtle. And his tweets about the Russian investigation have repeatedly slammed the investigation as nothing more than a “witch hunt” meant to undercut his credibility.
“Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!” Trump tweeted.
“Despite the phony Witch Hunt going on in America, the economic & jobs numbers are great. Regulations way down, jobs and enthusiasm way up!” Trump tweeted.
“In other words, Russia was against Trump in the 2016 Election - and why not, I want strong military & low oil prices. Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted, quoting a “Fox and Friends” tweet saying, “Firm behind anti-Trump dossier also worked for Russia, Senate witness says.”
Trump, of course, can’t tweet an end to the investigations, but they are clearly an attempt to undercut their legitimacy and give his supporters ammunition to do the same.