President Donald Trump and his aides on Friday pushed back on Democrats demanding the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and an independent investigation into contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.
After new reports of top Trump aides meeting with the Russian ambassador and new questions about Sessions emerged, Trump took to Twitter to poke at Democratic leaders while his spokeswoman defended his administration.
“The big point here is the president himself knows what his involvement [with Russian officials] was and that’s zero,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters on Trump’s flight to Florida to visit a Catholic school to highlight his school-choice agenda.
Trump late Thursday accused Democrats of a “witch hunt” in a tweet.
That charge followed Sessions’ announcement that he would step aside from any investigations of the 2016 presidential election and his admission that he failed to tell his confirmation hearing he had met twice with the Russian ambassador last year.
But Democrats pressed for more answers about Trump aides’ contacts with Moscow envoy Sergey Kislyak and other officials. They said Sessions should return to a Senate committee to testify about why he said in his January hearing that he had no contacts with Russians last year. And they asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to probe his recusal.
On Friday morning, Trump posted a photo of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) sharing doughnuts with Russian President Vladimir Putin and wrote in a tweet: “We should start an immediate investigation into @SenSchumer and his ties to Russia and Putin. A total hypocrite!”
Trump later tweeted a photo of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) meeting with Russian officials and said, “I hereby demand a second investigation, after Schumer, of Pelosi and her close ties to Russia, and lying about it.”
Schumer tweeted back, “Happily talk re: my contact w Mr. Putin & his associates, took place in ‘03 in full view of press & public under oath. Would you &your team?”
Pelosi also responded, tweeting, “@realDonaldTrump doesn’t know difference between official mtg photographed by press & closed secret mtg his AG lied about under oath.”
A Pelosi aide said the 2010 photo showed Pelosi, then the House Speaker, meeting with the then-Russian president.
Sanders dismissed a New York Times story about a previously undisclosed meeting at Trump Tower in December between Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser, and former Gen. Michael Flynn with Kislyak.
“It was an introductory courtesy meeting which we did literally hundreds over the course of the transition,” she said.
And Sanders questioned the newsworthiness of a Wall Street Journal report that said Sessions used campaign funds to pay for expenses at the Republican National Convention, where he met with Kislyak and other ambassadors after making a speech. Sessions said he met with Kislyak in his role as a senator.
With his trip to Orlando, Trump sought to steer attention to his agenda for federal funding of nonpublic schools with a tour of St. Andrew Catholic School, a private religious school, and a visit to a fourth-grade classroom.
Trump shook hands with students who told him they were learning about Florida’s history, and joked to one girl who said she wanted to run her own business that she’s “going to make a lot of money. But don’t run for politics.”
Teachers’ unions said the visit showed Trump’s hostility toward public schools and his intention to turn education into a profit-making industry.
Trump then flew to West Palm Beach to spend the weekend at Mar-a-Lago, for the fourth time in his six weeks in office. Trump was scheduled to appear at a fundraiser at the Four Seasons Resort on Friday evening.
With The Associated Press