A senior Republican senator has urged Donald Trump to “back off” and stop tweeting about the ongoing investigation into his campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia’s purported efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.
Days after Mr Trump fired James Comey as FBI Director, Senator Lindsey Graham said it was essential to get to the bottom of what was said between the President and the former top federal investigator. He urged Mr Comey to take up an invitation to testify under oath before the senate.
Mr Graham spoke after Mr Trump claimed Mr Comey had told him on three occasions – once over dinner – that he was not personally under investigation. Mr Trump also appeared to suggest, in what was widely seen as a threat to Mr Comey, that there existed recordings of those conversations.
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“I think we need Comey to come before the senate and explain what happened at that dinner,” he said on NBC. “If there are any tapes, they need to be handed over. We can’t be cute about tapes.”
Mr Graham, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was asked whether he thought it was appropriate for Mr Trump to have said on Twitter: “James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.” The South Carolina senator said he thought the President’s comments were not appropriate.
“Right now, I do not believe President Trump is a target or a subject of any investigation regarding collusion with the Russians. That's what I believe,” he said.
“I would advise the President not to tweet or comment about the investigation as we go forward. He needs to back off.”
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Donald Trump says James Comey told him multiple times he was not under investigation
Mr Graham spoke as the White House was still scrambling to clean up the fallout of Mr Trump’s decision last week to fire Mr Comey. Initially, White House officials said the decision had been taken because of Mr Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
Yet, amid claims from Democrats and others that the President had axed Mr Comey because of his role in leading the investigation into alleged links to Russia, Mr Trump admitted the probe had been a factor. He also said he had taken the decision before receiving a recommendation from officials in his Justice Department.
“When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won’,” he told NBC, saying that Mr Comey was a “showboat” and a “grandstander”.
“Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey. The FBI has been in turmoil. You know that, I know that, everyone knows that.”
Mr Trump, who at the weekend delivered a commencement address at the US's biggest Christian college, also claimed Mr Comey assured him on three separate occasions, including once over dinner and on another occasion over a phone call, that he was not personally under investigation.
It has been reported that Mr Trump sought repeated oaths of loyalty from Mr Comey, despite the fact that his role is supposed to be independent and non-partisan. The White House has denied such demands were made. Sources close to Mr Comey have denied the President’s version of events.
Mr Comey has yet to publicly comment on the claims. Over the weekend, it was reported that the former director of the FBI might accept an invitation to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, if the hearing were to be held in public.