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Flynn incident pressures GOP on Russia probe

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., center, joined from left by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., takes questions from reporters about President Donald Trump's ousted national security adviser, Michael Flynn, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it was “highly likely” the Intelligence Committee would look into Michael Flynn.

WASHINGTON — Michael Flynn’s forced resignation as national security adviser amid evidence that he misled officials about a conversation with Russia’s US ambassador increased pressure on congressional Republicans Tuesday to expand the investigation into Russia’s role in Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory.

The disclosure by the White House Tuesday that Trump knew for weeks that Flynn may have lied about his phone call, and the additional revelation Tuesday that the FBI has interviewed Flynn about the episode, added fuel to the fire on Capitol Hill.

Trump asked Flynn to resign Monday night after reports last week and Monday in The Washington Post demonstrated that he did not tell White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, that his Dec. 29 conversation with Russia’s ambassador touched on the Obama administration’s sanctions on Russia. The sanctions were intended to punish Russia for meddling in the 2016 election.

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Democrats pounced on the issue Tuesday, reigniting calls for a deeper investigation by Congress into Russia’s hacking in the 2016 election and ties to the Trump campaign.

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A number of Republicans from both chambers displayed skepticism about the need for a deeper investigation of the Trump administration’s actions on Russia — a stunning reversal for a party that for decades has preached a hawkish approach to dealing with Russia.

But other Republicans joined the call for an investigation into Flynn.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican, said the standing committees with intelligence oversight should launch an investigation, but he demurred when asked if Flynn should testify before Congress. “I think it’s symbolic of somebody with a distinguished military career making a bad mistake,” he told CNN.

Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the latest revelations about Flynn should be added to the existing investigation into Russia. Both chambers of Congress launched probes last month into Russia’s role in the hacking during the 2016 election.

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“I think it’s likely that General Flynn will be at some point asked to come and talk to the committee about both post-election activities and any other activities that he would be aware of,” he told reporters Tuesday.

Senator majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky added that it was “highly likely” the Intelligence Committee would look into Flynn.

At issue is whether Flynn’s early conversations with a Russian official amounted to interfering in Obama administration foreign policy.

At the time of the conversation, Trump, who was not yet inaugurated, had tapped Flynn to handle one of the most sensitive national security posts in the his new administration.

Among the unanswered questions: What Trump knew about the contents of Flynn’s call, and when he knew it. Flynn’s actions could be illegal under the Logan Act, which prohibits unauthorized citizens from interfering in diplomatic affairs.

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Also Tuesday, news outlets reported that Trump was aware of Flynn’s calls with the Russian ambassador for two weeks before Pence — who earlier had been assured no such conversations happened — learned the truth from press reports.

In the face of Flynn’s departure, some Republicans remained wary of an investigation into his actions.

Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was noncommittal. A spokesperson for Burr’s office said in a statement the committee would “continue to conduct vigorous oversight over the activities of the Intelligence Community,” but the statement did not mention Flynn specifically.

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky told Fox News Radio it would be “excessive” to investigate Flynn and that it would make “no sense” to investigate other Republicans.

“I just don’t think it’s useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party,” he said, as first reported by CNN.

In the House, Speaker Paul Ryan dodged questions about whether Congress should investigate Flynn, saying, “I’m not going to prejudge the circumstances,” but he said he supported Trump’s decision to ask for Flynn’s resignation.

Across the aisle, Democrats’ call for an independent investigation into Flynn’s relationship with Russia came from many corners.

“There needs to be an independent and transparent investigation, because the White House knew for weeks that General Flynn misled the vice president and that his discussion about sanctions with the Russian government could potentially compromise our national security, because it was subject to blackmail,” Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a Democrat, tweeted, “Congress must pull its head out of the sand and launch a real, bipartisan, transparent inquiry into Russia. Our natl security is at stake.”

But top House Republicans seemed even more hesitant than their Senate counterparts to launch a full-fledged investigation into Flynn.

California Representative Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a member of Trump’s transition team, said he was more concerned that the FBI was recording Flynn’s call with the Russian ambassador.

“I expect for the FBI to tell me what is going on, and they better have a good answer,” he told The Washington Post. “The big problem I see here is that you have an American citizen who had his phone calls recorded.”

Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told reporters, “I think that situation has taken care of itself.” Chaffetz led the charge in investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state.

Tyler Pager can be reached at tyler.pager@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @tylerpager.