WASHINGTON • A heightened sense of unease has gripped the White House after US President Donald Trump lashed out at reports that he is under scrutiny over whether he had obstructed justice.
Aides repeatedly deflected questions about the probe and Vice-President Mike Pence acknowledged hiring a private lawyer to handle fallout from investigations into Russian election meddling.
Mr Pence's decision to hire Mr Richard Cullen - a veteran of the Iran-contra investigation, Watergate and the 2000 vote recount in Florida - as a private lawyer came less than a month after Mr Trump hired his own private lawyer.
The hiring of Mr Cullen, whom an aide said Mr Pence was paying for himself, was made public a day after The Washington Post reported that special counsel Robert Mueller was widening his investigation to examine whether the President had attempted to obstruct justice.
Mr Trump took to Twitter yesterday to insist that despite months of investigating, no evidence has emerged that he colluded with Russia to tilt the presidential election last year in his favour.
"After 7 months of investigations & committee hearings about my 'collusion with the Russians,' nobody has been able to show any proof. Sad!" the US President tweeted.
You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history - led by some very bad and conflicted people!
US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, in a tweet, responding to reports that he is under investigation for obstruction of justice.
"The Fake News Media hates when I use what has turned out to be my very powerful Social Media - over 100 million people! I can go around them," he declared in a second tweet.
A defiant Mr Trump at many times on Thursday expressed his frustration with reports about the expansion of Mr Mueller's probe, tweeting that he is the subject of "the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history", and one that he said is being led by "some very bad and conflicted people".
Mr Trump, who only a day earlier had called for a more civil tone in Washington after a shooting at a Republican congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, fired off several more tweets in the afternoon voicing disbelief that he was under scrutiny while his "crooked" Democratic opponent in the election, Mrs Hillary Clinton, escaped prosecution in relation to her use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state.
Before the day ended, the White House was hit with the latest in a cascade of headlines relating to the Russian probe: a Washington Post story reporting that Mr Mueller is investigating the finances and business dealings of Mr Jared Kushner, Mr Trump's son-in-law and adviser.
And yesterday, The New York Times reported that Mr Trump's transition team had been ordered to preserve materials related to the ongoing investigations.
Deputy Attorney-General Rod J. Rosenstein also generated a lot of buzz but little clarity with a statement urging Americans to "exercise caution" when evaluating stories attributed to anonymous officials. The statement followed several stories in the past few days in The Washington Post and New York Times which quoted unnamed sources speaking about the probe.
"The legal jeopardy increases by the day," said one informal Trump adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
At the White House on Thursday, aides sought to portray a sense of normalcy. At a previously scheduled off-camera briefing for reporters, principal deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was peppered with more than a dozen questions about ongoing investigations for about 20 minutes. In keeping with a new practice, she referred one question after another to Mr Trump's personal lawyer.
WASHINGTON POST, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES