Pressure built on U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday as lawmakers intensified probes into his ouster of the FBI chief and possible collusion between his 2016 campaign and Russia, more fellow Republicans called for an independent investigation and one even mentioned impeachment.
The controversy spooked investors, but Trump delivered a defiant message, complaining during a speech that he was being treated more unfairly than any other politician ever.
U.S. stocks and the dollar sold off and bond prices rallied as investors fled risky assets amid uncertainty about Trump’s ability to deliver on his policy agenda, such as tax and regulatory changes. The S&P 500 was on track for its worst day since September.
The tumult in Washington deepened over allegations Trump had sought to end the FBI’s investigation into ties between Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Russia. This raised questions about whether the president improperly attempted to interfere with a federal investigation.
House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan insisted that Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress, were not seeing their legislative agenda mired, but the controversy enveloped Washington.
James Comey, whose firing as FBI director last week triggered a political firestorm, wrote a memo detailing how Trump commented to him in February “I hope you can let this go,” referring to the Flynn probe, a source who has seen a memo written by Comey said on Tuesday.
The White House on Tuesday said the report was “not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee invited Comey to testify next Wednesday. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said panel members were also inviting Comey to testify at an undetermined date.
Trump removed Comey in the middle of a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe into alleged Russian interference in the the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and possible ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia. In a separate but related probe, the FBI is looking into Flynn’s ties with Russia.
As the controversy swirled, Trump said in a speech to U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduates in Connecticut he did not get elected “to serve the Washington media or special interests.”
“Look at the way I have been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly,” Trump said.
In the face of unfairness, “you have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight. Never ever, ever give up. Things will work out just fine,” he said.
The president has long bristled at the notion that Russia played any role in his November upset win but the Russia issue has clouded his early months in office. Moscow has denied U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion it meddled in the campaign to try to tilt the election in Trump’s favor.
The Senate Judiciary Committee asked the FBI to provide memos related to Comey’s dealings with his superiors in the Trump and Obama administrations.
It also asked the White House to provide records of interactions with Comey, including those “relating to the FBI’s investigation of alleged ties between President Trump’s associates and Russia, or the Clinton email investigation, including all audio recordings, transcripts, notes, summaries, or memoranda,” according to a statement.
On Tuesday, the Republican chairman of a House oversight committee, Jason Chaffetz, set a May 24 deadline for the FBI to produce all relevant material relating to any communications between Comey and Trump. Ryan backed Chaffetz’s request.
Democratic lawmakers have demanded that the Justice Department name a special prosecutor to investigate the Russia matter. About 10 House Republicans and four Senate Republicans have called for some sort of independent investigation.
Interfering with a federal investigation might constitute obstruction of justice and could potentially be invoked in any attempt to impeach Trump.
Asked by reporters whether he thought the allegations against Trump were grounds for impeachment, Republican Representative Justin Amash said, “If the allegations are true, yes. But everybody in this country gets a fair trial, including the president or anyone else.”
Amash is a member of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus who has already has called for an independent commission to investigate. Asked if he trusted Comey or Trump, Amash replied: “I think it’s pretty clear I have confidence in Director Comey.”
It would be significant if more Republicans began to talk about impeaching the president, as the party holds a majority in both chambers of Congress. A simple majority is required in the House to impeach a president, which would lead to a trial by the Senate and possible removal from office. A small number of Democrats also have mentioned impeachment.
Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said on Wednesday it may be time for an independent commission or special prosecutor, expressing concern about “the continuous and often conflicting reports about President Trump, the FBI and Russia.”
Republican Adam Kinzinger, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told CNN on Wednesday “it’s time for an independent commission or a special prosecutor or whatever.”
Word of the Comey memo followed a week of chaos at the White House after Trump fired the FBI director on May 9. Criticism of the president intensified after it emerged on Monday that he discussed sensitive national security information about Islamic State with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russia’s ambassador in Washington at a White House meeting last week.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Trump had not passed on any secrets to Lavrov. Putin made light of the matter at a news conference in Russia, saying Moscow was ready to hand a transcript of the meeting to U.S. lawmakers if that would help reassure them.
Most Republicans have said the current FBI probe and investigations in Congress into the Russia matter are sufficient. Ryan stuck to that line and told reporters on Wednesday he still has confidence in Trump.
“We need the facts,” Ryan said. “It is obvious there are some people out there who want to harm the president. But we have an obligation to carry out our oversight regardless of which party is in the White House.
“I’m sure we’re going to go on to hear from Mr. Comey about why, if this happened as he allegedly describes, why didn’t he take action at the time? So there are a lot of unanswered questions.”
However, several Republicans conveyed a sense of an administration in turmoil.
“Controversy after controversy or cut after cut is not good for any administration,” Senator Richard Shelby told reporters.