President Donald Trump lashed out at two Republican senators recently over matters relating to Russia, according to a Politico report on Wednesday, showing the degree to which the unfolding Russia scandal is keeping the president occupied.
First, in a late-July phone call with Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, Trump complained about a bipartisan bill that sanctioned Russia for interfering with the 2016 US election while making it tougher for Trump to lift the sanctions. The bill was overwhelmingly supported in Congress by both parties and was signed into law earlier this month.
“He was clearly frustrated,” a source familiar with the call told Politico.
RELATED: Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations
Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations
Paul Manafort signed on as Donald Trump’s campaign manager in March 2016. A longtime Republican strategist and beltway operative, Manafort had previously served as an adviser to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich — a pro-Russia leader who was violently ousted in 2014. Manafort resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 amid questions over his lobbying history in Ukraine for an administration supportive of Russia. The former campaign manager reportedly remained in Trump’s circle during the post-election transition period.
Gen. Michael Flynn was named President Trump’s national security adviser in November of 2016. Flynn reportedly met and spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, at one point discussing sanctions. Flynn originally told Vice President Pence he did not discuss sanctions — a point the Department of Justice said made the national security adviser subject to blackmail. Flynn resigned from his position in February.
Outgoing Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak is the Russian official U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions — communication Sessions denied during his Senate committee hearing testimony.
Stone is a longtime Republican political consultant who served as a campaign adviser to Trump who continued to talk with the then-GOP candidate after stepping away from his adviser role. Stone claimed last year that he had knowledge of the planned WikiLeaks release of emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Stone recently admitted to speaking via direct message with “Guccifer 2.0” — an online entity U.S. officials believe is tied to Russia. Stone says the correspondence was “completely innocuous.”
Former U.S. senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama joined Trump’s campaign as a foreign policy adviser in February 2016. Sessions was nominated to be U.S. attorney general by President Trump and was then confirmed by the Senate. Reports then emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Sergey Kislyak while he was senator — a fact that he left out of his Senate hearing testimony. Instead, he said in writing that he had not communicated with any Russian officials during the campaign season. Sessions defended himself saying he had spoken with Kislyak specifically in a senate capacity.
Russian President Vladimir Putin
The American intelligence community accused Putin in Jan. 2017 of ordering a campaign to undermine trust in the American electoral process, developing a clear preference for Trump as president. “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump,” the report read.
Comey publicly confirmed in March an FBI inquiry into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election. “The F.B.I., as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election,” Comey stated.
Page worked for Merrill Lynch as an investment banker out of their Moscow office for three years before joining Trump’s campaign as a foreign policy adviser. During his time with Merrill Lynch, Page advised transactions for two major Russian entities. Page has called Washington “hypocritical” for focusing on corruption and democratization in addressing U.S. relations with Russia. While Page is someone Trump camp has seemingly tried to distance itself from, Page recently said he has made frequent visits to Trump Tower.
Before Gordon joined the Trump campaign as a national security adviser in March 2016, he served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 through 2009. Like others involved in Trump-Russia allegations, Gordon met with ambassador Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention, but has since denied any wrongdoing in their conversation. He advocated for and worked to revise the RNC language on and position toward Ukraine relations, so it was more friendly toward Russia’s dealings in the country.
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Then, on August 7, Trump called Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina to express his unhappiness with a bill that would limit Trump’s ability to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating the Trump campaign’s potential ties to Russia’s election interference. Trump said he didn’t want the bill to pass, according to another Politico source familiar with the call.
The two calls underscore Trump’s increasing frustration with Congressional Republicans over their continued efforts to keep the Russia probe alive. Trump also lashed out at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a profane phone call earlier this month relating to the sanctions bill.
“It seems he is just always focused on Russia,” a senior Republican aide told Politico.
White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters acknowledged the two private calls, but did not offer specifics.
“We do not comment on private conversations the president has with members of Congress,” Walters said in a statement. “We are committed to working together on tax relief, border security, strengthening the military, and other important issues.”
But with each new quarrel with a fellow Republican, Trump strains the relationship between him and the Congress members who he needs to pass his agenda.
Trump has openly courted challengers to oust Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who he called “weak on borders” for opposing Trump’s plan to build a wall along the US-Mexican border. And he has threatened political retaliation against Republican senators who wavered on the GOP replacement health care bill, including Dean Heller of Nevada, who ultimately voted for the bill, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who didn’t.
The bill ultimately failed by one vote, delivering another defeat to the White House.