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Demands increase for special prosecutor on election meddling by Russia; White House sidesteps issue

Lawmakers are urging Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the inquiry.
Susan Walsh/Associated Press
Lawmakers are urging Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the inquiry.

WASHINGTON — With demands rising for an independent investigation into apparent Russian intervention in the presidential election, the White House said Sunday that it is premature to call for a special prosecutor.

Lawmakers from both parties have said Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself from the inquiry and appoint a special prosecutor to look into whether Russia meddled to help elect Donald Trump.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House deputy press secretary, said Sunday that congressional committees looking into Russian activity should be allowed to do their work first.

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‘‘I don’t think we’re there yet,’’ she said in a televised interview. ‘‘Let’s work through this process. You guys want to jump to the very end of the line.’’

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Sessions was an early supporter of Trump and a key figure in his campaign. Democratic leaders want him to step aside while the FBI and the Justice Department look into what happened.

On Friday, a leading Republican, Representative Darrell Issa of California, echoed that view, saying a special prosecutor would be appropriate.

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week,’’ Sanders said the congressional investigations would find no efforts by the Trump campaign to collude with Russians and suggested that the focus on Russia was being driven by Democrats still upset by the election result.

‘‘We’re extremely confident that, whatever review, they’re all going to come to the same conclusion: that we had no involvement in this,’’ she said.

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‘‘The bigger thing here is, if Democrats want to continue to relive their loss every single day, by doing an investigation or review after review, that’s fine by us,’’ Sanders added.

Appearing later on the same program, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, offered a different view, saying, ‘‘The attorney general must recuse himself.’’

Issa’s comments came during a Friday broadcast of HBO’s ‘‘Real Time With Bill Maher.’’

Issa, a Trump supporter who is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the congressional committees should be allowed to do their work.

But when pressed by Maher, Issa added: ‘‘You’re right that you cannot have somebody — a friend of mine, Jeff Sessions — who was on the campaign and who is an appointee. You’re going to need to use the special prosecutor’s statute and office.’’

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On Sunday, former CIA director John Brennan called on the congressional committees looking into the apparent interference to “pursue this investigation with vigor and with the appropriate amount of bipartisan support.”

The comment came a day after Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he may pull his support from the panel’s investigation because of concerns that the matter was being prejudged.

Warner spoke after Washington Post reports that committee chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, had challenged media accounts of the contacts between Russia and associates of Trump at the request of the White House.

“It’s very important that the investigation be done in a bipartisan fashion,” Brennan, who left the government in January, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “If it’s only one party that’s going to be leading this, it is not going to deliver the results that the American people need and deserve.”

In a separate development Sunday, administration officials said the president has no plans to cut Social Security or Medicare.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Fox News’s ‘‘Sunday Morning Futures’’ that ‘‘we are not touching those now.’’ He said people should not ‘‘expect to see that as part’’ of the administration’s first budget.

Mnuchin said Trump’s priority was passing legislation to reduce middle-class and corporate taxes.

Lawmakers are set to return to the Capitol on Monday. Congressional Republicans insist they are working closely with the administration as they prepare to take votes on health legislation. Bills on changes to the tax code will follow.

Congress is awaiting a budget from the Trump administration, and continuing the slow process of approving his nominees for his Cabinet. So far, the Senate has confirmed 14 Cabinet and Cabinet-level officials.

Those still awaiting confirmation include financier Wilbur Ross for commerce secretary, Representative Ryan Zinke to lead the Interior Department, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson to be housing secretary, and former Texas governor Rick Perry at the Energy Department.

As soon as Monday, Trump is slated to sign documents compelling the EPA to begin undoing recent regulations, including the Clean Power Plan that slashes greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation; and the Waters of the US rule that defined which waterways are subject to pollution regulation, Bloomberg reported.