Trump struggles to shake off Russia controversy

WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump entered his 11th week in office last Friday in crisis mode, his governing agenda at risk of being subsumed by escalating questions about the White House's conduct in the Russia probe - which the President called a "witch hunt".

Mr Trump and his senior aides spent much of the day on the defensive, parrying the latest reports that senior administration officials may have improperly interfered with the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into Moscow's meddling in the US elections and possible links between Mr Trump's campaign and Russian officials.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer defended the actions of three senior White House aides who, according to media reports, helped facilitate the visit of the committee's chairman, California Representative Devin Nunes, to the White House grounds last week to view classified intelligence documents. "What he did, what he saw, who he met with was 100 per cent proper," Mr Spicer said of Mr Nunes.

The chairman later briefed the President on the information and declared publicly that the documents showed Mr Trump's campaign aides were swept up in US intelligence surveillance of foreign nationals.

That prompted the President to say he felt "somewhat" vindicated in his unsubstantiated allegations that then President Barack Obama had ordered a wiretap on him.

WITCH HUNT

This is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss),by media & Dems.

U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, suggesting he supported a request by former national security adviser Michael Flynn for immunity from prosecution in exchange for offering to testify in the Russia probe.

Mr Trump, meanwhile, weighed in again last Friday via Twitter by suggesting that he supported a request by his former national security adviser Michael Flynn for immunity from prosecution in exchange for offering to testify in the probe. "This is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems," Mr Trump wrote.

Mr Spicer said the White House was not concerned that Mr Flynn might reveal damaging information, even though Mr Trump fired him in February over revelations that Mr Flynn misled senior officials, including Vice-President Mike Pence, over his communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

But California Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, called it a "grave and momentous step" for a national security official to seek immunity.

Mr Schiff said the investigation "grows in severity and magnitude by the day", and he said the committee has "much work and many more witnesses and documents" to review before any witness can be considered for immunity.

For the White House, it was another chaotic day in which its attempt to regain control of the political conversation - this time through two executive orders on trade - was relegated to an afterthought in Washington.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 02, 2017, with the headline 'Trump struggles to shake off Russia controversy'. Print Edition | Subscribe