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Saturday December 16th, 2017 11:50AM

The Latest: Pelosi wants commission to probe Russia meddling

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on President Donald Trump (all times local):

3:25 p.m.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi is urging Democrats to sign a discharge petition to establish an independent commission to investigate Russian interference in the presidential election and whether associates of President Donald Trump cooperated with that effort.

Pelosi says the American people "deserve answers and to get to the bottom of the Trump-Russia connection and possible collusion to influence the election."

Democratic Reps. Eric Swalwell of California and Elijah Cummings of Maryland are leading the petition effort, which Democrats say is needed because of reluctance by congressional Republicans to investigate Trump.

A total of 110 lawmakers, including Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, had signed the petition as of Wednesday afternoon. At least 216 signatures are needed to bring the measure to the House floor.

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2:55 p.m.

The White House says President Donald Trump will be interviewing four potential candidates to lead the FBI, including former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer says Trump will be meeting later Wednesday with Lieberman, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, FBI acting director Andrew McCabe and Richard McFeely, a former top FBI official.

The meetings come more than a week after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. The president has suggested he hopes to name Comey's successor before he departs Friday for his first overseas trip as president.

Spicer spoke aboard Air Force One following Trump's remarks at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut.

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2:45 p.m.

The Republican chairman of a House oversight committee says he will ask former FBI Director James Comey to testify at a hearing next week that will look into whether President Donald Trump pressured Comey to shut down an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz said in a tweet Wednesday that he still hasn't spoken with Comey about testifying. But he has set a hearing for May 24.

The moves comes a day after it was disclosed that Comey had written a memo detailing how Trump had asked him to shut down the investigation into Flynn. The FBI has been looking into Flynn for months as part of a counterintelligence investigation.

Chaffetz has demanded that the FBI turn over Comey's memos. He says he wants to determine whether the president attempted to influence or impede the FBI's investigation into Flynn.

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2:35 p.m.

President Donald Trump is telling graduates of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy that no other politician has been treated more unfairly by the media. But he says, "you cannot let them get you down."

Trump is offering his advice at the academy's commencement in Connecticut, telling the graduates that they will find that "things are not always fair." But Trump says, "you have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight."

The president says they can't let the critics get in the way of their dreams.

Trump was speaking amid reports that he appealed to then FBI Director James Comey to shut down the bureau's investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn earlier this year.

He made no mention of Comey in his speech.

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2:30 p.m.

Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee say they expect the panel to ask ousted FBI Director James Comey to testify to Congress.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Wednesday he expects the committee leadership to send a letter shortly to the former director.

Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island also said he expects a request will be made to Comey.

Comey wrote a memo after one February meeting at the White House stating that President Donald Trump had asked him to shut down the FBI's investigation of sacked national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The Judiciary committee has requested memos and other documents.

Graham said: "I think the legislative process is pretty much ground to a halt until you get the Comey episode dealt with."

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1:55 p.m.

A senator wounded in combat says she's concerned that President Donald Trump's "unpredictable behavior and rhetoric" is undercutting the Pentagon's ability to combat the threat Russia poses to the U.S. and its allies.

Democrat Tammy Duckworth of Illinois says Trump's sharing of top-secret information with senior Russian officials and his firing of former FBI Director James Comey show he's refusing to confront the "clear and present threat from our adversary." The FBI is investigating Russian ties to the Trump campaign and Moscow's meddling in the 2016 election.

She detailed her concerns in a letter sent Wednesday to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. She's asking Mattis to assess how Trump's disclosure to the Russians could affect military operations.

Duckworth lost her legs and partial use of her right arm during the Iraq war.

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1:20 p.m.

Top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are asking the FBI to provide memos from former director James Comey and for the White House to turn over any audio recordings that might exist of conversations with the now-fired director.

Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California sent the letter to the Justice Department and the White House on Wednesday. They called on the White House "to provide records of interactions with former Director Comey, including any audio recordings."

The letter came after the Senate Intelligence Committee made a similar request for Comey's memos. The Intelligence panel also sought his testimony in open or closed session.

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1 p.m.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham says President Donald Trump's trip to the Middle East and Europe comes at a good time.

The South Carolina lawmaker says Trump's probably happy to leave Washington now, "and a lot of us are glad he's leaving for a few days."

Trump's Friday departure comes with his White House rocked almost daily by damaging revelations that are troubling growing numbers of Republican lawmakers.

Trump in February asked the since-fired FBI director, James Comey, to drop the bureau's investigation of White House national security adviser Michael Flynn. That's according to a Comey memo. Trump also shared sensitive classified information data with senior Russian officials.

Graham says the controversies will follow Trump abroad. His advice to the president: "Stay disciplined, stay focused and deliver on the world stage."

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12:20 p.m.

The Senate intelligence committee wants former FBI director James Comey to appear before the panel in both open and closed sessions.

The committee said Wednesday that it is also asking Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe to give the committee any notes that Comey might have made regarding discussions he had with White House or Justice Department officials about Russia's efforts to influence the election.

Comey wrote a memo after one February meeting at the White House stating that President Donald Trump had asked him to shut down the FBI's investigation of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Comey's memo — an apparent effort to create a paper trail of his contacts with the White House — would be evidence that president has tried to influence the investigation.

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12:05 p.m.

House Republican Justin Amash of Michigan says it could be grounds for impeachment if President Donald Trump urged FBI Director James Comey to end a probe of former adviser Michael Flynn.

Responding to a question, Amash said Wednesday that could be grounds, "if the allegations are true." He said that "everybody in this country gets a fair trial, (whether) it's the president or anyone else."

Amash became the first Republican lawmaker to raise the specter of impeachment. However, Amash has been a consistent critic of Trump, as well as an opponent of House Republican leadership and his views are not widely representative.

The New York Times was the first to report on a February memo by Comey that suggested Trump asked him to lay off Flynn. Trump later fired Comey.

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11:35 a.m.

The top Democrat on a key House oversight panel says Speaker Paul Ryan "has shown he has zero appetite for any investigation of President Trump."

The comments by Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings came as Democrats sought to force a House vote to establish an independent commission to investigate Donald Trump's ties to Russia.

Cummings said the Government Reform and Oversight panel needs to subpoena documents for its Russia probe and summon former FBI Director James Comey for a public hearing.

Cummings reminded reporters that panel chairman Jason Chaffetz held a hearing featuring Comey just 48 hours after Comey announced there was no evidence warranting charges against Hillary Clinton after an investigation found she had improperly handled classified information on a private email server.

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10 a.m.

House Speaker Paul Ryan says Congress must gather all relevant information before "rushing to judgment" on President Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Ryan told reporters Wednesday that Congress "can't deal with speculation and innuendo." He says there is "clearly a lot of politics being played."

Ryan says a House committee has "appropriately" requested a Comey memo describing a February meeting he had with Trump. A person familiar with the document says Comey wrote that Trump asked him to drop the bureau's investigation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Ryan raised questions about Comey's account of that meeting. The Wisconsin Republican says Congress will want to know if Trump asked Comey to end the probe, "why didn't he take action at the time."

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8 a.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has lashed out at U.S. politicians whipping up what he described as "anti-Russian sentiment" for being either "stupid" or "dangerous."

Speaking at a joint news conference with the visiting Italian prime minister, Putin said on Wednesday Moscow initially found debates about Russia's meddling in U.S. politics as "funny" but said Moscow is now "concerned because it's hard to imagine what the people who produce such nonsense can come up with next."

Putin dismissed the U.S. politicians, whom he did not identify, as either being "stupid" or "dangerous and unscrupulous" who are wittingly "causing the damage to their own country."

Asked what he thinks of Trump presidency, Putin said it's up to the American people to judge but his performance can only be rated "only when he's allowed to work at full capacity," implying that someone is hampering Trump's efforts.

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7:35 a.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed the ongoing scandal around President Donald Trump sharing classified intelligence with Russian officials as "political schizophrenia."

Trump came under fire earlier this week after it was revealed that he shared the sensitive intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak.

Speaking at a joint news conference with the visiting Italian prime minister on Wednesday, Putin said he had "no other explanation" as to why Trump came under attack other than "political schizophrenia." Putin even suggested that Russia share the records of last week's talks between Trump and Lavrov with the U.S. Congress, if the White House approved.

Putin joked that that he would reprimand Lavrov because "he hasn't shared those secrets with us."

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6:45 a.m.

The Kremlin isn't commenting on the details of the classified information that President Donald Trump shared with the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador last week.

The White House on Tuesday defended Trump discussing with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak an Islamic State group terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft.

Speaking to Russian news agencies on Wednesday Yuri Ushakov, an aide to President Vladimir Putin, would not comment the contents of last week's talks among Trump, Lavrov and Kislyak.

Ushakov said "any contacts" with the U.S. president are "important" but he would not reply to the question whether the classified information that Trump reportedly shared with Lavrov and Kislyak was valuable for Russia.

___

3:10 a.m.

President Donald Trump personally appealed to FBI Director James Comey to abandon the bureau's investigation into National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, according to notes Comey wrote after the meeting.

The White House issued a furious denial after the notes were disclosed late Tuesday, near the end of a tumultuous day spent beating back potentially disastrous news reports from dawn to dusk.

The bombshell Comey news came as the beleaguered administration was still struggling mightily to explain Monday's revelation that the president had disclosed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and the country's ambassador to the United States.

Defending Trump's actions, officials played down the importance and secrecy of the information, which had been supplied by Israel under an intelligence-sharing agreement, and Trump himself said he had "an absolute right" as president to share "facts pertaining to terrorism" and airline safety with Russia.

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