U.S. President Donald Trump's White House was left reeling Wednesday following the stunning allegation that he sought to derail a criminal investigation into links his former national security adviser had with Russian officials on top of reports that Trump disclosed highly classified intelligence to two Moscow diplomats last week.
"Nobody knows where this really goes from here," one White House official told Politico, a Washington political news site. "What is next?"
A small but growing number of Trump's Republican colleagues in Congress, along with Democrats, called for a special prosecutor or commission to examine ties between Trump and his aides to Russia, an investigation going beyond those already being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the intelligence committees in both the Senate and House of Representatives.
"Now is the time to put party considerations aside and do what is right for the country," by appointing an independent special prosecutor not beholden to the White House, Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer said.
The House Republican leader, Speaker Paul Ryan, said the three probes already under way were sufficient.
"There's plenty of oversight going on," Ryan told a news conference. "We need to follow the facts wherever they may lead."
Trump made no direct public comment about the controversy, but told graduating seniors at the Coast Guard Academy in the northeastern state of Connecticut, "No politician in history has been treated worse or more unfairly" than he has been.
The new willingness to investigate the Trump-related links to Russia came after associates of then-FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump abruptly fired last week while he was heading the agency's Russia probe, said that Comey wrote notes after a February meeting with the president saying that Trump had asked him to drop a probe of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
The Comey-Trump meeting came a day after Trump fired Flynn, a retired Army general, for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to Washington.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, a Trump loyalist, demanded that acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe produce within a week all information it has related to the Comey-Trump meeting at the White House.
Other lawmakers, including the Senate intelligence panel, called on Comey to testify publicly and privately about his conversations with Trump. Ryan questioned why Comey did not disclose Trump's request to end the Flynn probe shortly after their February conversation.
The New York Times broke the story late Tuesday, reporting that Comey had written a memo detailing his conversation with Trump. The Times story said the memo was part of a paper trail Comey created to document his perception that the president’s request was improper.
Several legal analysts have argued that any such request could be considered obstruction of justice, an impeachable offense. Representative Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said at a news conference Tuesday, "If true, this is yet another disturbing allegation that the president may have engaged in some interference or obstruction of the investigation."
The Times reported that an FBI agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations. A spokeswoman for the FBI declined to comment on the details of the Comey memo.
The Trump White House swung into crisis mode after the story broke. A statement issued Tuesday evening did not directly refer to The Times report, but denied that Trump had asked Comey or anyone else to end the Flynn probe.
“While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn,” the statement said. “The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”
In a separate statement issued at the same time, the administration pointed out that McCabe had told a Senate committee last week that the White House has not interfered with the Russia investigation.
William Gallo, Michael Bowman and Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.