President Donald Trump on Sunday condemned anew the reports of his inner circle’s ties to Russia, expressing fresh anger at Democrats and journalists he said he believes are perpetuating falsehoods.
“Russia talk is FAKE NEWS put out by the Dems, and played up by the media, in order to mask the big election defeat and the illegal leaks!” he wrote on Twitter.
CNN had reported last week that White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had asked the FBI to dispute reports by CNN and The New York Times that Trump campaign officials frequently spoke with Russian intelligence officers.
Trump’s latest tweet about Russia-themed news as fake comes amid increasingly strained relations between the White House and the press corps. The president has labeled the news media “the enemy of the people” and some outlets, including the Times and CNN, were barred from an off-camera press briefing Friday.
Trump tweeted Saturday that he would not attend the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner on April 29.
His spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told ABC News’ “This Week” on Sunday, “It’s kind of naive of us to think that we can all walk into a room for a couple of hours and pretend that some of that tension isn’t there.”
She said Trump wasn’t elected to spend time with reporters and celebrities.
The White House deputy press secretary also was asked about a call by Democrats and some Republicans, including Rep. Darrell Issa of California, for Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from investigations into the Trump team’s communications with Russia.
“I don’t think we’re there yet,” she responded, adding, “If Democrats want to continue to relive their loss every single day by doing investigations or review after review, that’s fine by us.”
She said the FBI has rejected the stories as false, but interviewer George Stephanopoulos noted the agency has not commented publicly.
On “Fox News Sunday,” former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said, “Never ever, ever did I or anyone that I know of have communication or contact with anyone from Russia, or the Russian government, whatsoever.”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” unlike Issa, said there’s no need for a special prosecutor and “no credible evidence of these contacts.”
Former CIA Director John Brennan told CBS News’ “Face The Nation,” that “The White House needs to understand that the interaction with the FBI on criminal investigations is something that really they need to steer clear of.”
Also Sunday, Trump declared in a tweet that the race for the Democratic National Committee chairman was “totally rigged,” claiming Hillary Clinton demanded that Tom Perez be chosen. The president did not offer details or evidence and the White House did not respond to a request for comment.
“The race for DNC Chairman was, of course, totally ‘rigged.’ Bernie’s guy, like Bernie himself, never had a chance. Clinton demanded Perez!” Trump tweeted.
A DNC spokeswoman referred to Perez’s interviews on the Sunday morning TV talk shows.
Perez spoke warmly about the runner-up for DNC chair, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who Perez named as his No. 2.
“Congressman Ellison and I are united, and our Democratic unity is Donald Trump’s worst nightmare,” Perez told ABC News.
“Frankly, what we need to be looking at is whether this election was rigged by Donald Trump and his buddy Vladimir Putin,” the former labor secretary told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The contentious DNC vote Saturday in Atlanta showed an apparent splintering of the party. Ellison and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who backed the congressman, downplayed tensions.
Sanders, a former Democratic presidential candidate, told CNN that Ellison “took on, in essence, Democratic insiders, and yet he came close to winning.” He said Trump “doesn’t have a point” with his tweet that the DNC process was rigged.
Ellison tweeted, “Trump is used to getting whatever he wants. Not anymore. Democrats are united.”
The Democratic Party faces the challenge of rebuilding nationally amid GOP control of the White House, Congress and 33 governorships.
During the presidential campaign, emails released by WikiLeaks and allegedly linked to the DNC showed party leaders repeatedly sought to undermine Sanders in favor of Clinton.