Trump blames media, intelligence community as Russia scandal deepens

WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump dodged questions on Wednesday about ties with Russia, railed against intelligence leaks and defended the national security adviser he just fired, as crisis engulfed his fledgling administration.

Amid revelations that Trump aides were in repeated contact with Russian intelligence officials in the run-up to his shock election victory last year, the Republican billionaire battened down the hatches, even as members of his party called for a broader probe.

The 70-year-old president accused his own intelligence community of being behind the leaks, directly pointing the finger at the National Security Agency and the FBI.

“This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign,” Trump said in one tweet.

“The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!”

At a press conference, Trump called on journalists sympathetic to his administration in order to dodge tough questions about his aides’ ties to Moscow.

He addressed the high-profile sacking of national security adviser Michael Flynn – only to blame reporters for what he called the mistreatment of his former aide.

“I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media, as I call it, the fake media in many cases,” he said.

“The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!”

Trump demanded Flynn’s resignation on Monday, after wiretaps showed he falsely claimed he did not discuss sanctions policy with Russia’s ambassador to Washington.

Since then, Trump’s administration has been shaken by new reports of high-level Russian contacts with his aides and associates during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Among those picked up on the calls was Paul Manafort, a Trump campaign chairman who had worked as a political consultant in Ukraine, The New York Times said. Manafort called the report “absurd.”

RUSSIA DENIES CLAIMS

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov dismissed the latest allegations.

“Don’t believe newspaper reports – it’s very difficult at the moment to differentiate them from falsehoods and fabrications,” Peskov told reporters.

“If you don’t mind, let’s wait and let’s not believe anonymous information, which is information based on no fact,” he said.

The revelations have infuriated Democrats and unsettled Republican leaders wary about Trump’s professed desire for better relations with Moscow.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have now called for an investigation into what happened, although they differ on the scope and powers of the probe.

In January, US intelligence agencies released a declassified report concluding that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered a wide-ranging campaign to disrupt and ultimately influence the US election in Trump’s favour.

Source: News24 (AFP)

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