U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said on Sunday that it was wrong for the Trump transition team to reach out to Russia over Obama-era sanctions imposed in response to its interference in the U.S. presidential election but that this doesn’t prove collusion.
“During the transition period there’s still only one president and that was President [Barack] Obama, so those conversations should not have been taking place, but that does not confirm collusion,” Collins said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Her remarks follow Friday’s revelation that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, at the bequest of senior Trump transition officials, in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 20 inauguration urged the Russian ambassador to the U.S. to not respond “in a reciprocal manner” to U.S. sanctions imposed in response to election interference and “not escalate the situation.” Flynn pleaded guilty Friday to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials.
Collins said that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling “clearly is bearing fruit” with Flynn’s guilty plea. He is the fourth member of the Trump campaign, and the first from the Trump White House, to be charged in the wide-ranging probe. Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates and former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos were charged by Mueller in October.
“Clearly, he is making progress. He’s had guilty pleas from two individuals, he’s had two other indictments, so he is making progress,” said Collins, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is overseeing its own probe into Russian interference in the election.
U.S. intelligence agencies in January concluded that Russia interfered in the election to sway it in Donald Trump’s favor.
U.S. Sen. Angus King, who also sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Mueller may now be focusing on President Trump and whether Trump told former FBI Director James Comey “to go easy on Flynn” even knowing he lied to the FBI.
“That ups the ante,” King said.
On Saturday, Trump tweeted that he had fired Flynn in February because he lied to Vice President Mike Pence and the FBI. Comey, who Trump fired in May, told a Senate panel in June that Trump had pressured him to drop the FBI’s probe into Flynn.
On Thursday, The New York Times reported that Trump over the summer pressed top Senate Republicans to end the chamber’s probe into Russian election meddling and alleged collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russia.
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the Intelligence Committee chairman, told the Times that Trump told him that he was eager to see an end to the investigation that has overshadowed his first year in office.
His reply to Trump: “When we have exhausted everybody we need to talk to, we will finish.”
But Burr brushed off the contacts as inexperience on part of Trump, who never served in public office before his electoral upset last year.
A White House spokesman told the Times that the president “at no point has attempted to apply undue influence on committee members.” The spokesman said Trump denies any collusion, “and these investigations must come to a fair and appropriate completion.”
Collins said Sunday that she was not contacted by Trump about the Senate’s Russia investigation, but “the president should have no comment whatsoever on either of these investigations.”
“And the only thing that he should be doing is directing all of his staff and associates to fully cooperate,” she added.
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