Investigators have launched a probe into whether White House officials engaged in a cover-up of Russian meddling in the US election, Congress members briefed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein have said.
The probe marks a third line of inquiry regarding Russian influence, adding to a more general investigation into Russian meddling in the investigation, and a more specific investigation into Trump campaign ties to the country.
“This is a thorough investigation of what happened in the 2016 election, and it can go anywhere,” Representative Mark Walker told McClatchy DC.
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Congress members said the third line of investigation was added recently, after memos surfaced claiming Mr Trump had tried to convince his former FBI director to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Mike Flynn. Mr Flynn had engaged in numerous contacts with Russian officials, some of which he misrepresented to Vice President Mike Pence and others.
Mr Trump fired the former FBI director, James Comey, last week, setting off a firestorm of leaks and investigations. According to a recent New York Times report, Mr Trump told Russian officials that he had felt "great pressure because of Russia," and that the firing had taken it off.
Mr Rosenstein briefed Congress this week about the circumstances surrounding Mr Comey's firing. The White House has claimed memos from Mr Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions were crucial in persuading Mr Trump to fire Mr Comey.
Mr Rosenstein reportedly spoke to the new, cover-up investigation in one of these briefings.
News of the investigation broke shortly after The Washington Post reported that investigators are pursuing a senior White House official as a "person of interest" in the Russia investigation. Both stories indicate a marked escalation of the investigation since Mr Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special prosecutor.
Mr Trump has denied any collusion with Russia, and called the investigation into his campaign the "single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history".
"Even my enemies say there is no Russia collusion," Mr Trump said in a press conference on Thursday.
It was not immediately clear to whom the president was referring.