It's difficult to read this any other way than the president putting pressure on an independent investigation. And that could be a problem for the president, given that he is the focus of another independent investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into whether he obstructed justice in firing former FBI director James B. Comey.
Legally, it's open to interpretation whether this could get Trump in trouble. In one sense, what he did isn't that unusual. “Presidents try to put pressure on members of Congress (especially members from their own party) all the time,” Josh Chafetz, a constitutional law professor at Cornell University, wrote in an email.
But the Senate's Russia investigation isn't your average political dispute between a president and Congress. It's an investigation that involves the president. The committee is interviewing some of Trump's top campaign aides and closest allies, including but certainly not limited to Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
After some eight months of work, the top Republican and Democrat of the Senate Intelligence Committee said as recently as October that they couldn't rule out whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. And on Friday, former national security adviser Michael Flynn was charged with making a false statement to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador, marking another monumental development in the probe.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the previous leader of the committee, said it's “inappropriate” for the president to try to end an investigation of an entirely different branch of government — let alone one that is at least somewhat related to him. “It is pressure that should never be brought to bear by an official when the legislative branch is in the process of an investigation,” she said.
Politically speaking, the optics are terrible. “It certainly doesn't do anything to ease suspicions that Trump is trying to hide something,” Chafetz said.
In a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, about 49 percent of Americans say they think Trump has committed a crime in connection with Russian attempts to meddle in the election, though more say their view is based on suspicion rather than any evidence.
Trump has repeatedly called any allegations of Russia meddling a hoax — and, we know now, has tried to put pressure on lawmakers to end it. But that investigation continues, and his reported efforts to influence it have made their way into the press. For a president struggling to have a working relationship with Congress, that's a blow.
“It's yet another sign of Trump's weakness as president that he tried to pressure them and not only didn't it work, but it also got leaked to the press,” Chafetz said.