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Lawmakers warn Trump not to impede Russia investigations

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, shown on Feb. 26, 2017,

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, shown on Feb. 26, 2017, said Monday that President Donald Trump should not attempt to stop the investigation into Russia's attempts to influence the 2016 election. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Democrats and some Republicans said Monday that President Donald Trump shouldn’t try to impede or short-circuit an investigation into Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election, following the indictment of Trump’s former campaign manager and a guilty plea from a former campaign adviser.

Lawmakers and analysts said the revelation that George Papadopolous, a former Trump foreign policy adviser, already admitted lying to authorities about talking to Russian nationalists during the campaign means that special investigator Robert Mueller’s probe is far from over. One analyst deemed it a “wake-up call” to the White House.

In addition to Papadopolous’ plea, Mueller announced the indictment of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager and his deputy Rick Gates on tax fraud and money laundering charges.

Lawmakers expressed concern that Trump might try to block the probe or even fire Mueller — a reference to the president’s dismissal of FBI director James Comey, who was leading the Russia investigation earlier this year. They warned him against such action.

“Any attempt by the president to stop this investigation would be a red line that should not be crossed,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)

“The president must not, under any circumstances, interfere with the special counsel’s work in any way,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate minority leader, said. “If he does so, Congress must respond swiftly, unequivocally, and in a bipartisan way to ensure that the investigation continues.”

On Sunday, Trump took to Twitter to urge Republicans to “DO SOMETHING” about Mueller’s probe, though he didn’t say what. By Monday, some Republicans were saying Trump shouldn’t stand in the way.

“The president should let the special counsel do his job,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee told CNN.

A New York Republican, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Willsboro) said: “In light of today’s news on the Mueller probe, I wanted to express my continued support for this investigation. The investigation into possible Russian interference in our election cycle is a serious matter and it’s important for our political process to allow it to continue so that we may get the facts.”

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) didn’t comment directly on the indictment and guilty plea.

Trump allies and some Republicans sought to deflect the news by pointing out the indictments didn’t specifically mention Trump or collusion.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said Manafort and Gates “may very well end up owing a debt to society.” But he told Fox News the developments could be “good” for Trump because investigators in the indictment “are not talking about the Trump campaign.”

“This is separate from the president,” Zeldin said.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said the Manafort indictment showed “no connection at all to President Trump, no connection at all to the Trump campaign, no connection whatsoever to any type of Russian collusion.”

But Susan Del Percio, a Republican political consultant, said Papadopolous’ plea was perhaps a “bigger wake-up call” for the administration than Manafort’s indictment. California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said the facts outlined in Papadopolous’ plea “directly relate to the issue of collusion.”

If anything, the developments Monday signaled a continuation, not an end, said one Long Island Democrat.

“I think we all have a lot of questions about the president’s unusual relationship with Russia,” said Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove). “I think there is just a lot more smoke and everybody knows the old saying. We have to continue this process.”

With wire services.

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