U.S. President Donald Trump has been in office for a month, but the number of investigations of his new administration and its actions is mounting.
It is not just opposition Democrats trying to uncover the inner workings and thinking of the new administration in Washington, but also Republican colleagues of the billionaire real estate mogul turned politician and government investigators who are raising questions about his actions and those of his aides.
The most significant of the probes concerns contacts between Trump aides and Russian officials. At first, congressional committees and the country’s chief investigative agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, were only sorting through the details behind the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion last year that Russia meddled in the run-up to November’s U.S. presidential election in an effort to help Trump win.
Flynn – Russia contacts
But those probes deepened following the forced resignation last week of former Army general Michael Flynn as Trump’s national security adviser. Trump said he had demanded the resignation because Flynn misled Vice President Mike Pence about his phone conversations with the Russian ambassador to Washington in the weeks before Trump assumed power on January 20.
“The thing is, he didn’t tell our vice president properly, and then he said he didn’t remember,” Trump said at a White House news conference. “So either way, it wasn’t very satisfactory to me.”
Trump laid the blame for Flynn’s downfall on U.S. intelligence agencies for “illegally” disclosing the content of calls between Flynn and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to news outlets. Unidentified officials were quoted saying the transcripts showed the two men discussing sanctions imposed on Russia by former President Barack Obama in late December for Moscow’s meddling in the U.S. election aimed at helping Trump win.
Flynn had led Pence and other Trump aides to believe there had been been no such talk about the Obama sanctions, with Pence then publicly relating the erroneous information on a news talk show.
Trump denied that he had directed Flynn to discuss the sanctions with Kislyak, but added, “I would have.” The president said Flynn was doing his job to make contact with foreign officials ahead of the new administration taking power.
While several congressional panels, chiefly the intelligence committees in both the Senate and House of Representatives, are looking into those and other alleged contacts between Trump aides and Russia, the chairman of the House’s main investigative committee has asked the U.S. Justice Department to launch an investigation into the leaks surrounding the Flynn-Kislyak calls.
“We have serious concerns about the potential inadequate protection of classified information here,” said Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz. “In light of this, we request that your office begin an immediate investigation into whether classified information was mishandled here.”
Conway – Ivanka clothing line
Chaffetz has also agreed with Democrats that the Office of Government Ethics should investigate a Trump aide, Kellyanne Conway, for her blatant pitch from the White House briefing room in which she promoted clothing and fashion accessories sold by Trump’s daughter, Ivanka — a violation of a longstanding ethics rule. The ethics office recently suggested to the White House that it could discipline Conway for the incident, for which the White House said she had been “counseled.”
“What she did was wrong, wrong, wrong,” Chaffetz said.
North Korea missile launch – Mar-a-Lago
In addition, Chaffetz has asked the White House to explain why Trump discussed and viewed documents concerning a North Korean missile test with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump’s Atlantic oceanfront mansion in Florida while nearby diners watched in fascination and captured the scene with their cellphone cameras. Trump said the two were only discussing details of what to say at a press conference on the missile test, but critics say they should have retreated to a secure room out of sight.
So far, however, Chaffetz has rebuffed calls by Democrats for a wholesale investigation of Trump’s vast business links across the globe and the potential for conflicts with his presidential actions. Even as he has retained ownership of hotels, resorts, golf courses and consumer product ventures, the new president has turned over control of the businesses to his adult sons, Eric and Donald Trump Jr.
Trump International Hotel
Chaffetz has asked the government’s building management agency for an explanation of Trump’s lease of the Old Post Office Building in Washington, just blocks from the White House, which he turned into a luxury hotel. U.S. regulations prohibit elected officials from holding leases on government property.
The congressional panels probing the Flynn-Kislyak contacts may expand the scope of their investigations to consider the finding of American law enforcement and intelligence agencies, leaked to the New York Times, that Trump aides had frequent contacts with Russian intelligence officials during his 2016 presidential campaign. Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee have called for the White House to preserve any records that could bear on the investigation.
Trump said the Times report was “discredited,” and an example of “fake reporting.” He said he knew of no contacts between his presidential campaign and Russian officials.
“I own nothing in Russia,” he said, “I have no loans in Russia. I have no deals in Russia.”
The top Senate Democrat, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, said, “It is now readily apparent that General Flynn’s resignation is not the end of the story. It is merely the beginning of a much longer story.”
A Republican, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker said, “Russia’s the elephant in the room. That’s what we need to be dealing with.”`
During his long run to the White House, Trump declared “I love WikiLeaks,” as the anti-secrecy group disclosed thousands of emails from the computer of the campaign chief of Democrat Hillary Clinton, the former U.S. secretary of state Trump defeated in the November election. The emails depicted embarrassing behind-the-scenes maneuvering by Democratic operatives to help Clinton secure the party’s presidential nomination.
Trump, at his 77-minute news conference, said the WikiLeaks disclosures were different because they were not classified material, as was the content of the Flynn-Kislyak calls.
Trump has regularly assailed the leaks surrounding the Flynn-Kislyak calls, rather than the content of them, in his almost daily commentary on his Twitter social media account.
“Leaking, and even illegal classified leaking, has been a big problem in Washington for years,” he said, demanding that the “failing New York Times (and others) must apologize!”
In a second tweet, he added, “The spotlight has finally been put on the low-life leakers! They will be caught!”
Later in the week, he branded the U.S. news media as “the enemy of the American people.”