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Trump asked FBI to 'shut down' Russia probe

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UPDATED | US President Donald Trump asked then-FBI Director James Comey to end the agency's investigation into ties between former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn and Russia, according to a source who has seen a memo written by Comey.

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The explosive new development on Tuesday followed a week of tumult at the White House after Trump fired Comey and then discussed sensitive national security information about Islamic State with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The Comey memo, first reported by the New York Times, is likely to raise questions about whether Trump tried to interfere with a federal investigation.

Comey wrote the memo after he met in the Oval Office with Trump, the day after the president fired Flynn on February 14 for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the extent of his conversations last year with Russia’s ambassador, Sergei Kislyak.

“I hope you can let this go,” Trump told Comey, according to a source familiar with the contents of the memo.

The New York Times said that during the Oval Office meeting, Trump condemned a series of government leaks to the news media and said the FBI director should consider prosecuting reporters for publishing classified information.

The White House denied the report in a statement, saying it was “not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the President and Mr. Comey”.

Flynn’s resignation came hours after it was reported that the Justice Department had warned the White House weeks earlier that Flynn could be vulnerable to blackmail for contacts with Kislyak before Trump took office on January 20.

Kislyak was with Lavrov at the White House last week when Trump disclosed the sensitive information.

A spokeswoman for the FBI declined to comment on the details of the memo.

The new development came as Republican and Democratic lawmakers pressured Trump to give a fuller explanation for why he revealed sensitive intelligence information to Lavrov.

The information had been supplied by a US ally in the fight against the Islamic State militant group, the officials said.

US officials said Trump discussed intelligence about Islamic State with Lavrov and Kislyak at last Wednesday’s meeting.

The officials said the information had been supplied by a US ally in the fight against the militant group. The New York Times identified the ally as Israel.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said he would not comment on the reports. He also declined to say whether the White House would share transcripts of Trump’s meeting with Lavrov with politicians who have asked for them.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked the White House for more information about reports that Trump gave intelligence information to the Russians.

While not unprecedented, it is a rare privilege for a foreign minister to be granted bilateral talks in the Oval Office with a US president.

A US president has the authority to disclose even the most highly classified information at will, but US and allied officials said that by giving information to Russia, Trump had endangered cooperation from an ally that has intelligence on Islamic State.

Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday to defend his actions.

“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety,” Trump tweeted. “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

Trump has frequently said he wants to improve US relations with Moscow, damaged by years of disagreement over Russia’s role in Ukraine and its backing for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster said Trump did not know the source of the information he disclosed to the Russians.

Turmoil in the White House in recent weeks has overshadowed Republican legislative priorities such as healthcare and tax reform.

Controversy over Russia has also laid bare sharp divisions between the White House and US intelligence agencies.

– Reuters

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