Schiff says Trump wants to focus on tweets, not Russia probe

© Reuters. Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) of the House Standing Committee on Intelligence speaks with journalists

By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee on Sunday accused President Donald Trump of trying to divert Congress from its investigations into Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. elections and any ties between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Rep. Adam Schiff said the Republican president and his aides have instead tried to focus attention on the

possibility of illegal leaks of classified information and whether Trump or his associates were caught in the incidental collection by surveillance that was directed at foreigners.

Congressional committees, along with the FBI, are investigating what US intelligence agencies have concluded were attempts by Russia to influence the Nov. 8 presidential election in Trump’s favor. They are also analyzing the ties between Russia and Trump.

Schiff said that Trump himself tried to divert Congress’s focus from that core mission of foreign intervention.

“I think his tweets tell the story,” Schiff said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And the story is to look there – at the leaks, and look there – at whatever the Obama administration can claim it did wrong in the incidental collection or whatever.”

“But whatever you do, under no circumstances look here, at me or at Russia,” he said.

Trump has repeatedly used Twitter to attack reports of Russian election meddling as “fake news” and “witch hunts” and denounce leaks of classified information on the subject.

“The real story turns out to be WATCH and LEAKS! Find the leakers,” Trump said in a Twitter post Sunday.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was asked about Trump’s comments on Twitter about the Congressional investigations.

“Sometimes I think this is a distraction from what we should be doing,” Cornyn said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

The Senate panel intends to begin interviewing up to 20 people, including Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and one of his closest advisers, starting Monday.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Sunday there was no evidence of Trump’s collusion with Russia to win the election. “It’s time to move on,” he told Fox News.

On March 4, the president without testifying accused his Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, of ordering a wiretap of Trump Tower. No elected official, including that of Trump’s Republican Party, has supported the claim.

But Republican House intelligence panel Chairman Devin Nunes unleashed a political storm on March 23 when he said communications from members of Trump’s transition team were embroiled in incidental surveillance targeting foreigners.

Nunes declined to share the source of his information, but the New York Times revealed last week that two White House officials provided him with the documents about the surveillance, which Trump said was in some ways a vindication of his claim of wiretapping.

Schiff went to the White House on Friday to see the documents. When asked on CNN if he understood why Nunes had a problem with surveillance, Schiff only replied, “I don’t agree with the characterization of the president.”