Comey to testify that Trump sought ‘loyalty,’ asked to lift Russia ‘cloud’

Judson Berger

James Comey plans to testify Thursday that in the months before he was fired as FBI director, President Trump sought his “loyalty” while also pressing him to “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation and lay off Michael Flynn, according to written testimony released ahead of his Senate committee appearance.

The prepared remarks for his opening statement, released by the Senate Intelligence Committee, also make clear that Comey repeatedly assured Trump he was not personally under investigation.

Comey’s statement detailed several meetings he had with Trump dating back to January.

He extensively described a Jan. 27 dinner where he said Trump told him: “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.”

READ COMEY’S STATEMENT

Comey plans to say as well that Trump sought help ending any probe of former national security adviser Flynn, reiterating previously published reports about such claims.

Comey’s testimony will mark his first Capitol Hill appearance since his firing a month ago. Lawmakers are eager to hear his side, amid a raft of reports suggesting Trump had pressured Comey over investigations of Russian meddling in the election and coordination with his associates.

Trump has denied pressuring Comey as well as any collusion with Russia.

If Comey’s opening statement is any gauge, Thursday’s testimony will be explosive.

The seven-page document, however, began with a piece of good news for the president — confirming his past claims that Comey assured Trump “we were not investigating him personally.” Comey first gave the assurance during their first meeting at Trump Tower on Jan. 6, during a discussion about a salacious and widely contested anti-Trump dossier, and reiterated the statement in subsequent conversations.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel highlighted those passages, tweeting Wednesday, “Comey’s testimony reconfirmed what @POTUS has been saying all along: The President was never under investigation.”

Comey went on to say he and the president later dined on Jan. 27 at the White House. This is when the conversation allegedly turned to “loyalty.” He said Trump asked whether he wanted to stay on at the FBI, but after he made clear he was not on anyone’s side politically, Trump pressed him on loyalty.

“I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed,” Comey said in the statement.

Comey admitted that when Trump later said he wanted “honest loyalty,” Comey assured, “You will get that from me.” He later wrote in a personal memo he may have interpreted that term differently from Trump.

The testimony went on to describe a Feb. 14 Oval Office meeting, which concerns a key moment that later leaked into press reports and has fueled Congress’ interest in hearing from Comey post-firing.

Comey said that when he and Trump were alone, Trump asked to speak about Flynn, who had just resigned as national security adviser over misleading Vice President Pence over his contacts with the Russian ambassador. According to Comey, Trump said Flynn is a “good guy” and, “I hope you can let this go.”

Comey said he later prepared a memo about the conversation, noting that he understood Trump to be referring only to Flynn and not the broader Russia investigation:

“I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December. I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign. I could be wrong, but I took him to be focusing on what had just happened with Flynn’s departure and the controversy around his account of his phone calls.”

However, Comey said Trump called him on March 30 and complained that the Russia probe was a “cloud” over his administration. Comey claimed Trump asked what could be done to “lift the cloud.”

They last spoke on April 11.

Trump fired him a month later, with officials citing in part Comey’s controversial handling of the Hillary Clinton email case.

Late Wednesday, multiple Congressional sources from both sides of the aisle told Fox News that Comey’s statement contained a level of detail, granularity and “puffery” of the sort that had “aggravated” them in previous encounters with the then-FBI director.

“Several of the sources have said that Comey’s statement was laced with “theatrics” in an effort to make certain events “appear more dramatic than they were.”

“It’s too cute,” said one source who has had multiple dealings with Comey behind closed doors. “I have never been so angry at a witness as I was at him.”

Fox News’ Chad Pergram contributed to this report. 

Flynn to turn over subpoenaed documents to Senate intelligence committee

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn will hand over subpoenaed personal and business records to the Senate intelligence committee, a source close to the retired Army lieutenant general told Fox News Monday.

Flynn, who was fired as national security adviser in February, rebuffed an initial subpoena for personal documents from the committee by invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The committee’s leaders responded by subpoenaing records related to Flynn’s consulting businesses, which are not subject to Fifth Amendment protections.

The source told Fox News that the committee recently narrowed its requests for Flynn’s personal records, enabling him to accommodate the committee’s requests without jeopardizing his legal rights. Flynn’s attorneys had argued the earlier request was too broad and would have required Flynn to turn over information that could have been used against him.

The source added that Flynn wanted to cooperate with congressional investigations and was grateful that the Senate panel had narrowed the scope of its request.

The House and Senate intelligence committees, as well as the FBI, are conducting an investigation into Russian activities during the 2016 election campaign, including whether members of Trump’s campaign team colluded with Russian officials.

Flynn’s cooperation came as President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, rejected a request for documents as part of a House committee’s separate probe into Russia’s election meddling and contacts with the Trump campaign.

Cohen, a longtime attorney for the Trump Organization, remains a personal lawyer for Trump. He served as a cable television surrogate for the Republican during the presidential campaign.

The House intelligence committee’s request for information from Cohen came as the investigators continued to scrutinize members of Trump’s inner circle, including Flynn. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said last week that a subpoena for Flynn from the House panel was likely.

“I declined the invitation to participate as the request was poorly phrased, overly broad and not capable of being answered,” Cohen told The Associated Press. “I find it irresponsible and improper that the request sent to me was leaked by those working on the committee.”

Cohen told ABC News Tuesday that he had been asked by both the House and Senate intelligence committees to provide information and testimony about contacts he had with Russian officials.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the allegations of Moscow meddling in the U.S. presidential election are “fiction” invented by the Democrats in order to explain their loss. In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, Putin reaffirmed his strong denial of Russian involvement in the hacking of Democratic emails. The interview was recorded during Putin’s Monday trip to Paris and released Tuesday.

Trump made a similar claim in a tweet early Tuesday: “Russian officials must be laughing at the U.S. & how a lame excuse for why the Dems lost the election has taken over the Fake News.”

Cohen’s ties with Russian interests came up in February when The New York Times reported that Cohen helped to broker a Ukraine peace plan that would call for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine and a referendum to let Ukrainians decide whether the part of the country seized by Russia in 2014 should be leased to Moscow. The Russian government denied knowing anything about such a plan.

The Times reported that the peace plan was the work of Felix Sater, a business associate who has helped Trump try to find business in Russia, and Cohen.

Cohen was a fierce defender of Trump during the campaign, often haranguing probing reporters and famously challenging a CNN reporter live on-air to name the specific polls that showed then-candidate Trump behind his rival, Hillary Clinton.

In the early 2000s, he formed his own firm working on a range of legal matters, including malpractice cases, business law and work on an ethanol business in Ukraine. Cohen also owned and operated a handful of taxi medallions, managing a fleet of cabs in New York.

Cohen’s business associates in the taxi enterprise included a number of men from the former Soviet Union, including his Ukrainian-born father-in-law.

Cohen has made his own unsuccessful attempts at public office, losing a city council race and briefly running for state assembly in New York.

Fox News’ Catherine Herridge and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Trump’s agenda at risk after series of controversies

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said Tuesday that despite all the controversies surrounding Donald Trump’s presidency, the House still has to “pass meaningful legislation and get it to the president’s desk.”

Chaffetz, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman, told NBC News that the government is “always full of crisis.”

Trump set forth an ambitious agenda from taking on the country’s health-care system and tax code, but his administration has been ensnared in a series of controversies.

“I am worried, concerned, that continual political drama will drain the energy away from real accomplishments,” Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan said that it is “appropriate” for the House Oversight Committee to request the memo that was reportedly written by James Comey, the ousted FBI chief, and claimed that President Trump once asked him to end the probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The White House sharply disputed the report, as Democrats seized on it as potential proof of “obstruction” of justice.

According to The New York Times the memo quoted Trump as saying he hoped Comey could “let this go” with regard to Flynn.

The Times said Comey wrote the memo shortly after an Oval Office meeting on Feb. 14, the day after Flynn resigned from the Trump administration. The paper acknowledged it had not seen a copy of the memo, but said a Comey associate read parts of it to a reporter over the phone.

The Senate has no legislation on its agenda this week — business is instead limited to three low-profile nominations. The House — fresh off an 11-day recess — is devoting the week to mostly symbolic, feel-good legislation designed to show support for law enforcement. Another 11-day recess, for Memorial Day this time, is just around the corner.

Separately, a small group of Senate Republicans is meeting in hopes of finding a way forward on keeping Trump’s promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. But that effort appears likely to take several weeks — with no guarantee of success.

“It’s hard to make things happen here, right? It’s really hard. I mean you’ve got all kinds of forces working against you,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. “And so unless everybody’s aligned, everybody, throughout the White House and the Cabinet, it’s almost impossible. I think they’re all very aware of that and hopefully they’re going to move to address that.”

In the meantime, must-do legislation on the military, children’s health and a full slate of spending bills are all slipping behind schedule. Trump’s promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is dead in the water after being rejected during negotiations on a catchall spending bill — the only major bipartisan legislation to advance this year — and his promised $1 trillion infrastructure bill is still on the drawing board.

Trump’s tax plan is simply a set of talking points and for procedural reasons is on hold until health care is completed.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen an administration that was so lacking is substantive proposals this late in the beginning of their term,” said No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland. “The tax bill is a one-page minimal suggestion of what might be considered. There is no jobs bill. There is no infrastructure bill.”

Work on a congressional budget measure — which is the linchpin to follow-up legislation to cut tax rates — is months behind schedule. The House and Senate Appropriations panels, typically a swarm of activity at this time of the year, seem stumped as they await marching orders.

Trump’s budget finally arrives next week, promising a balanced federal ledger within 10 years. But the Trump budget could complicate matters more, in large part because it calls for domestic cuts that lawmakers have no interest in. Trump doesn’t appear very interested in the budget — its release has been scheduled for when he’s out of the country — and its promise of balance rests on rosy assumptions of economic growth and a sweeping round of unrealistic cuts to programs like Medicaid.

The GOP-controlled Congress has had just a handful of legislative successes since it convened in January. The most significant bill, so far, was a long-delayed House health care measure that squeaked through earlier this month. The House bill polls poorly with voters, however, and faces a wholesale rewrite in the Senate.

So far, just a single piece of major legislation has advanced that required the votes of Democrats — a catchall $1.1 trillion spending bill opposed by more than 100 House Republicans. Beyond that, many of the bills Trump has signed into law were fast-track measures to rescind regulations issued by former President Barack Obama last year. The clock ran out on further repeals and this week, the biggest Senate vote is on confirming Iowa GOP Gov. Terry Branstad as ambassador to China.

“Well, we have nominations and we’ve repealed billions of dollars of regulations,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. “Hopefully we’ll see some other action come to the floor.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation

Photo

James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing this month.CreditGabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.

“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.

The documentation of Mr. Trump’s request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia. Late Tuesday, Representative Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, demanded that the F.B.I. turn over all “memoranda, notes, summaries and recordings” of discussions between Mr. Trump and Mr. Comey.

Continue reading the main story

Such documents, Mr. Chaffetz wrote, would “raise questions as to whether the president attempted to influence or impede” the F.B.I.

Mr. Comey wrote the memo detailing his conversation with the president immediately after the meeting, which took place the day after Mr. Flynn resigned, according to two people who read the memo. It was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation. An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.

Video

A Times Exclusive: Trump, Comey and the Russia Investigation

Michael S. Schmidt, a New York Times reporter, explains new revelations from a memo written by James B. Comey, the fired F.B.I. director. The memo showed that President Trump may have tried to halt the agency’s investigation into Michael T. Flynn.

By A.J. CHAVAR on Publish DateMay 16, 2017. . Watch in Times Video »

Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of it to a Times reporter.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

What Is Obstruction of Justice? An Often-Murky Crime, Explained

A look at what qualifies as obstructing justice, and whether the accusations against President Trump could fit in that definition.

Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey that Mr. Flynn had done nothing wrong, according to the memo.

Mr. Comey did not say anything to Mr. Trump about curtailing the investigation, replying only: “I agree he is a good guy.”

Continue reading the main story

In a statement, the White House denied the version of events in the memo.

“While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn,” the statement said. “The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”

GRAPHIC

The Events That Led to Comey’s Firing, and How the White House’s Story Changed

New disclosures on Tuesday allege that in February, President Trump asked James B. Comey, then the F.B.I. director, to shut down an investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.

OPEN GRAPHIC

Mr. Chaffetz’s letter, sent to the acting F.B.I. director, Andrew G. McCabe, set a May 24 deadline for the internal documents to be delivered to the House committee. The congressman, a Republican, was criticized in recent months for showing little of the appetite he demonstrated in pursuing Hillary Clinton to pursue investigations into Mr. Trump’s associates.

But since announcing in April that he will not seek re-election in 2018, Mr. Chaffetz has shown more interest in the Russia investigation, and held out the potential for a subpoena on Tuesday, a notably aggressive move as most Republicans have tried to stay out of the fray.

Document: Representative Jason Chaffetz’s Letter to the F.B.I.

In testimony to the Senate last week, Mr. McCabe said, “There has been no effort to impede our investigation to date.” Mr. McCabe was referring to the broad investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. The investigation into Mr. Flynn is separate.

A spokesman for the F.B.I. declined to comment.

Mr. Comey created similar memos — including some that are classified — about every phone call and meeting he had with the president, the two people said. It is unclear whether Mr. Comey told the Justice Department about the conversation or his memos.

THE DAY’S TOP POLITICAL NEWS

Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey last week. Trump administration officials have provided multiple, conflicting accounts of the reasoning behind Mr. Comey’s dismissal. Mr. Trump said in a television interview that one of the reasons was because he believed “this Russia thing” was a “made-up story.”

The Feb. 14 meeting took place just a day after Mr. Flynn was forced out of his job after it was revealed he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of phone conversations he had had with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Despite the conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Comey, the investigation of Mr. Flynn has proceeded. In Virginia, a federal grand jury has issued subpoenas in recent weeks for records related to Mr. Flynn. Part of the Flynn investigation is centered on his financial links to Russia and Turkey.

Mr. Comey had been in the Oval Office that day with other senior national security officials for a terrorism threat briefing. When the meeting ended, Mr. Trump told those present — including Mr. Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions — to leave the room except for Mr. Comey.

Five Contradictions in the White House’s Story About Comey’s Firing

The Trump administration has offered conflicting answers about how and why the F.B.I. director, James Comey, was fired.

Alone in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, saying that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.

Mr. Trump then turned the discussion to Mr. Flynn.

After writing up a memo that outlined the meeting, Mr. Comey shared it with senior F.B.I. officials. Mr. Comey and his aides perceived Mr. Trump’s comments as an effort to influence the investigation, but they decided that they would try to keep the conversation secret — even from the F.B.I. agents working on the Russia investigation — so the details of the conversation would not affect the investigation.

Mr. Comey was known among his closest advisers to document conversations that he believed would later be called into question, according to two former confidants, who said Mr. Comey was uncomfortable at times with his relationship with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Comey’s recollection has been bolstered in the past by F.B.I. notes. In 2007, he told Congress about a now-famous showdown with senior White House officials over the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. The White House disputed Mr. Comey’s account, but the F.B.I. director at the time, Robert S. Mueller III, kept notes that backed up Mr. Comey’s story.

The White House has repeatedly crossed lines that other administrations have been reluctant to cross when discussing politically charged criminal investigations. Mr. Trump has disparaged the continuing F.B.I. investigation as a hoax and called for an inquiry into his political rivals. His representatives have taken the unusual step of declaring no need for a special prosecutor to investigate the president’s associates.

The Oval Office meeting occurred a little over two weeks after Mr. Trump summoned Mr. Comey to the White House for a lengthy, one-on-one dinner at the residence. At that dinner, on Jan. 27, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Comey at least two times for a pledge of loyalty — which Mr. Comey declined, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.

In a Twitter post on Friday, Mr. Trump said that “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

5395COMMENTS

After the meeting, Mr. Comey’s associates did not believe there was any way to corroborate Mr. Trump’s statements. But Mr. Trump’s suggestion last week that he was keeping tapes has made them wonder whether there are tapes that back up Mr. Comey’s account.

The Jan. 27 dinner came a day after White House officials learned that Mr. Flynn had been interviewed by F.B.I. agents about his phone calls with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak. On Jan. 26, the acting attorney general, Sally Q. Yates, told the White House counsel about the interview, and said Mr. Flynn could be subject to blackmail by the Russians because they knew he had lied about the content of the calls.

Firestorm over Comey’s dismissal adds to Trump frustrations

 

Associated Press

By JULIE PACE and JONATHAN LEMIRE, Associated Press3 hrs ago
Liver transplant recipient left homeless after Colo. hailstorm
In this May 12, 2017, photo, President Donald Trump speaks to military mothers in the East Room of the White House during Mother's Day celebration. Four months into office, Trump has become distrustful of some of his White House staff, heavily reliant on a handful of family members and longtime aides, and furious that the White House’s attempts to quell the firestorm over the FBI and congressional Russia investigations only seem to add more fuel. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)© The Associated Press In this May 12, 2017, photo, President Donald Trump speaks to military mothers in the East Room of the White House during Mother’s Day celebration. Four months into office, Trump has become distrustful of some of his White House staff, heavily reliant on a handful of family members and longtime aides, and furious that the White House’s attempts to quell the firestorm over the FBI and congressional Russia investigations only seem to add more fuel. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)WASHINGTON (AP) — After four months in office, President Donald Trump has become distrustful of some of his White House staff, heavily reliant on a handful of family members and longtime aides, and furious that the White House’s attempts to quell the firestorm over the FBI and congressional Russia investigations only seem to add more fuel.

Trump’s frustrations came to a head this week with the firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing the probe into his campaign’s possible ties to Russia’s election meddling. Fearful that his own team would leak the decision, Trump kept key staff in the dark as he pondered the dramatic move.

The communications staff charged with explaining the decision to the American people had an hour’s notice. Chief strategist Steve Bannon learned on television, according to three White House officials, though a person close to Bannon disputed that characterization.

When the White House’s defense of the move failed to meet his ever-changing expectations, Trump tried to take over himself. But he wound up creating new headaches for the White House, including with an apparent threat to Comey.

“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump wrote on Twitter Friday morning.

For a White House accustomed to bouts of chaos, Trump’s handling of Comey’s firing could have serious and long-lasting implications. Already Trump’s decision appears to have emboldened the Senate intelligence committee investigating Russia’s election interference and the president’s associates, with lawmakers announcing a subpoena for former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Comey’s allies also quickly made clear they would defend him against attacks from Trump, including disputing the president’s assertion that Comey told Trump he was not personally under investigation.

Several people close to the president say his reliance on a small cadre of advisers as he mulled firing Comey reflects his broader distrust of many of his own staffers. He leans heavily on daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as Hope Hicks, his trusted campaign spokeswoman and Keith Schiller, his longtime bodyguard. Schiller was among those Trump consulted about Comey and was tapped by the president to deliver a letter informing the director of his firing.

Trump confidants say Bannon has been marginalized on major decisions, including Comey’s firing, after clashing with Kushner. And while Trump praised chief of staff Reince Priebus after the House passed a health care bill last week, associates say the president has continued to raise occasional questions about Priebus’ leadership in the West Wing. Still, Priebus was among the tight circle of staffers Trump consulted about Comey’s firing.

Trump spent most of the week out of sight, a marked change from a typically jam-packed schedule that often includes multiple on-camera events per day. Even when aides moved ahead on an executive order creating a voter fraud commission — a presidential pet project that some advisers thought they had successfully shelved — Trump signed the directive in private.

More than a lack of momentum on major policy goals, Trump is said to be seething over the flood of leaks pouring out of the White House and into news reports. He’s viewed even senior advisers suspiciously, including Bannon and Priebus, when stories about internal White House drama land in the press.

A dozen White House officials and others close to Trump detailed the president’s decision-making and his mood on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss private conversations and deliberations.

After Trump decided to fire Comey, he was told by aides that Democrats would likely react positively to the news, given the role many believe Comey played in Hillary Clinton’s defeat last year. When the opposite occurred, Trump grew incensed — both at Democrats and his own communications staff for not quickly lining up more Republicans to defend him on television.

Much of Trump’s ire has been focused on the communications team, all of whom were caught off guard by Comey’s ouster. He increasingly sees himself as the White House’s only effective spokesperson, according to multiple people who have spoken with him. By week’s end, he was musing about cutting back on the White House’s televised press briefings.

Two White House officials said some of Trump’s frustration centers on what he views as unfair coverage of his decisions and overly harsh criticism of press secretary Sean Spicer, as well as deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders, who led much of the response to Comey’s firing. Aides said Trump does not believe his team gave contradictory stories about his decision to fire Comey, despite the fact that the White House’s explanation changed dramatically over a 48-hour period.

The White House initially said Trump was compelled to fire Comey by a critical memo from the deputy attorney general on the director’s handling of last year’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email. Aides later said the president had been considering firing Comey for months, and Trump said he would have made the decision regardless of the Justice Department recommendation.

“The challenge they have is that the president sometimes moves so rapidly that they don’t get a team around that gets it organized,” said Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and Trump ally. “He’s a little bit like a quarterback that gets ahead of his offensive line.”

Trump is mulling expanding the communications team and has eyed hiring producers from Fox News, according to one White House official.

White House officials had hoped last week’s House vote would give the president a much-needed burst of momentum and infuse new energy into efforts to fully overhaul the “Obamacare” health law and pass a massive tax reform package. Aides were also eager for Trump’s first foreign trip, a high-stakes blitz through the Middle East and Europe.

But the blowback from Comey’s firing left the White House reeling once again. Trump’s visible anger and erratic tweets prompted a reporter to ask Spicer on Friday if the president was “out of control.”

“That’s, frankly, offensive,” Spicer said.

__

Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writers Julie Bykowicz, Jill Colvin and Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.

__

Follow Pace on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JPaceDC and Lemire at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire

Trump advisers had ‘sensitive’ contacts with Russian agents for months, Clapper testifies

Michael Isikoff

Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner to face questions on Russia in Congress

The president’s son-in-law has agreed to appear before the Senate intelligence committee to answer questions regarding Trump’s ties to Russia. Kushner met with executives of a sanctioned Russian bank during the campaign.

Watch video00:53

White House aide Kushner to testify before Senate

Jared Kushner has agreed to be interviewed by the senators of the intelligence committee as part of their investigation into whether the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 presidential election, the White House confirmed on Monday.

Committee members are seeking to question the 36-year old in his role as Trump’s main intermediary with foreign governments during his campaign.

“Mr. Kushner will certainly not be the last person the committee calls to give testimony, but we expect him to be able to provide answers to key questions that have arisen in our inquiry,” committee chairman, Republican Richard Burr, and vice-chair Mark Warner, a Democrat, said in a joint statement.

Meetings with sanctioned bankers

The panel is particularly interested in two meetings Kushner set up with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak and in a talk between Kushner and the head of state-owned Russian development bank Vnesheconombank (VEB), the “New York Times” reported.

VEB confirmed to news agency RIA on Monday that its executives had held meetings with Kushner. These talks took place “in the format of a strategy development roadshow”, RIA said.

USA Sergei Kisljak in Washington (Getty Images/AFP/B. Smialowski)Russian ambassador Sergey Kiylyak reportedly met with Kushner and Michael Flynn in December, shortly after Trump was elected president, but before he took office

A December meeting between Kushner and Kislyak at Trump Tower in New York was reportedly also attended by Michael Flynn. Trump’s short-lived national security advisor resigned in February, after it was revealed that he had misrepresented his conversations with Kislyak. Flynn allegedly hinted to the ambassador that the US might lift the sanctions against Russia under Trump.

VEB is among the banks affected by sanctions the Obama administration imposed on Russia after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Kushner highest-ranking official questioned

Kushner is considered one of Trump’s key advisors in the West Wing. The president’s son-in-law was recently named head of a newly created Office of Innovation.

He is the fourth associate of Trump’s whom congressional committees are planning to question in their attempt to look into allegations that the president’s campaign team colluded with Russia. The other three were members of the Trump campaign team, but – unlike Kushner – do not hold any positions in the current administration: former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and campaign advisers Carter Page and Roger Stone.

While it is not unusual for staff of a presidential candidate to meet with foreign officials while seeking election, the Trump campaign has faced questions about whether its talks with Russian officials could have violated any laws.

Devin Nunes (picture alliance/AP Photo/P.M.Monsivais)A week ago, Devin Nunes, the chair of the House intelligence committee, said that there was “no evidence of collusion”

US intelligence believes that the Kremlin tried to influence the 2016 presidential election in favor of the president, orchestrating the hacking of Democratic Party computers and releasing information harmful to then-candidate Hillary Clinton. Both the Kremlin and the Trump administration have denied these allegations.

The FBI, along with both of the intelligence committees in the House and the Senate, is currently conducting an investigation into the matter.

The validity of the House investigation in particular has been questioned because the chairman of the House intelligence committee, Republican Devin Nunes, was a member of Trump’s presidential transition team. Critics have said that casts doubt on whether he can lead an independent probe.

mb/gsw (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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