Could Trump's activities lead to impeachment?
Calls for probe into US president's Russian ties and alleged interference in FBI investigation
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump's beleaguered White House was rocked on Tuesday by a pair of explosive allegations - that he personally tried to quash an FBI investigation, and that he disclosed highly-classified information to top Russian officials.
The Republican billionaire's administration, barely four months old, was left reeling by the one-two punch, which sparked instant outrage from Democrats who demanded a full explanation.
Either claim on its own - that he divulged top-secret information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during an Oval Office meeting, or that he pressed then-FBI director James Comey to drop a probe into ex-national security advisor Michael Flynn - would plunge any White House into serious crisis.
The allegations that Mr Trump divulged information were rubbished by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said yesterday that Moscow could provide a recording of the exchange.
"If the US administration finds it possible, we are ready to provide a recording of the conversation between Lavrov and Trump to the US Congress and Senate," Mr Putin said during a press conference.
He mocked the idea that Mr Trump went off-script to share secrets with the Russians, saying he could issue a "reprimand" to Mr Lavrov since he hadn't passed on the information.
"(Lavrov) didn't share these secrets with us - neither with me nor with the representatives of the Russian security services. That is very bad of him," Mr Putin said to sniggers from the audience as he answered questions after talks with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni in the southern Russian city of Sochi.
What else will the people generating such drivel and nonsense think of next?Russian President Vladimir Putin, slamming critics who have called for investigations into US President Trump's ties with Russia
Although Mr Putin used the Russian word for audio recording at the press conference, his foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov said that "audio is not made".
"There is a recording kept by a special person present at conversations," Mr Ushakov told Russian news agencies.
Citing unnamed sources, The Washington Post reported that Mr Trump had shared intelligence with Mr Lavrov regarding an Islamic State group terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on airplanes.
According to sources cited in the report, that intelligence came from a US ally who had not authorised Washington to pass it on to Moscow.
Mr Putin slammed critics who spread allegations about Mr Trump's ties with Russia.
"What else will the people generating such drivel and nonsense think of next?" he said.
"They are shaking up their internal politics while using anti-Russian slogans. They either don't understand that they are hurting their own country, and then they are simply dumb, or they understand everything and then they are dangerous and corrupt."
Besides this allegation, the New York Times dropped another bombshell - reporting that when Mr Comey met Mr Trump the day after Mr Flynn resigned, according to Mr Comey's contemporaneous notes, the US President tried to halt any FBI investigation.
"I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," Mr Trump is accused of telling Mr Comey. "He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."
The White House quickly denied any suggestion that Mr Trump was trying to obstruct justice - a criminal offence - in his dealings with Mr Comey, whom he fired last week.
"While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr Comey or anyone else to end any investigation," a US official said on condition of anonymity. "The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr Comey."
Both allegations fueled calls for a special prosecutor to investigate. Mr Trump's ties to Russia even raised questions about impeachment proceedings.
"The country is being tested in unprecedented ways. I say to all of my colleagues in the Senate, history is watching," said top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer.- AFP