Even as President Trump is consumed by his standoff with Democrats over the border and the government shutdown, a potentially larger battle looms for the White House.
On Sunday, Republicans, Democrats and the president seemed to be preparing for the prospect that the special counsel’s inquiry into the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia could further upend a government that’s in the midst of the longest shutdown in U.S. history.
“Impeachment is an unbelievably serious undertaking. No president has ever been removed from office,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told ABC’s “This Week.” “If the crimes are serious enough, it needs to be done.”
The president shot back in an interview with Fox News, blasting reports in the New York Times and The Washington Post that raised new questions about his interactions with Russian President Vladimir Putin and whether he had been working on behalf of the Russian government.
“I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked. I think it’s the most insulting article I’ve ever had written,” Trump told Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro after the Times reported that law enforcement officials in 2017 began investigating whether Trump had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo amplified that message Sunday, telling CBS’s “Face the Nation” that the notion that the president is a threat to national security is “absolutely ludicrous.”
The counterintelligence inquiry was taken over by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and is now part of Mueller’s broader probe into whether Trump’s campaign conspired with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election.
In the Fox interview, Trump also dismissed a report by The Post that catalogued the extraordinary measures he had taken to keep details of his conversations with Putin from other U.S. officials. In once instance, Trump took possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructed the linguist not to discuss what had happened with other administration officials.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted Saturday that his panel had tried to get the notes but was blocked by Republicans. “Will they join us now?” he asked. “Shouldn’t we find out whether our president is really putting ‘America first’?”
Trump dismissed those questions on Fox, describing his meeting with Putin as “very positive.”
“We were talking about Israel and securing Israel and lots of other things, and it was a great conversation,” he said. “I’m not keeping anything under wraps. I couldn’t care less.”
The shadow of the Mueller probe is likely to become a more pressing problem for the Trump administration and Republicans as the year progresses and the special counsel completes his work.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), the new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a Trump ally, said he was astonished that law enforcement officials had sought to investigate whether Trump was an agent of the Russians.
“It tells me a lot about the people running the FBI . . . I don’t trust them as far as I can throw them,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”
Graham said he planned to ask William P. Barr, the president’s nominee for attorney general, during his confirmation hearing this week whether he trusted Mueller and his team to be fair and whether he saw any reason to fire the special counsel.
Democrats countered that it was critical for Mueller to be allowed to complete his probe into whether Trump or his campaign worked on behalf of Russian interests. “That’s the defining question of our investigation and the Mueller investigation,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Was there collusion?”
Democrats also pledged to press Barr to release Mueller’s eventual report to the public, while most are avoiding talk of impeachment until it is finished. It is not clear when that will be or what conclusions, if any, the report will reach.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the new head of the House Oversight Committee, brushed off talk of impeachment as premature in an interview with “60 Minutes” on Sunday. But he said House Democrats would aggressively probe the Trump White House.
“The fact that we can look at anything is part of the problem,” he said. “There’s so much . . . And all I’m saying is that we’ve got to hit the ground, not running, but flying.”