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Russia probe: Trump cries victim of 'greatest witch hunt' in American history

But asked about the justice department decision to appoint a special counsel, Robert Mueller, to investigate contacts between his campaign and Russia, Trump appeared to shift his position from previous blanket denials.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reportedly did not dispute the account.

"There is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself, and the Russians - zero", Mr. Trump told reporters.

But behind closed doors, lawmakers are growing increasingly nervous that with Mueller's rise, their committee probes may be pushed aside - especially if he chooses to pursue a broad inquiry encompassing everything from the earliest allegations of Russian hacks to the circumstances that led to the firing of former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James B. Comey.

Early in the day, a seething Trump took to Twitter to blast the appointment, which shook Washington and sent world stock markets tumbling.

No less a commentator than Russia's Vladimir Putin called the dramatic charges swirling around Trump evidence of "political schizophrenia spreading in the U.S". Trump wrote on Thursday morning.

"With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!".

U.S. President Donald Trump struck back at critics and attempted in vain to change the topic on Thursday. The request was made by Trump after Flynn resigned as the national security advisor following surfacing of reports that he had maintained links with the Russians.

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Earlier in the day, Graham told reporters that committees would now see their access to witnesses and documents restricted, because potential witnesses involved in the FBI investigation could refuse to testify or provide information to avoid incriminating themselves.

The day after the conversation, The Times reports that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus had asked Comey to assist in deflecting media reports that claimed Trump's surrogates had been in contact with Russian intelligence agents prior to Trump's inauguration.

Wittes said that in a series of interactions with Trump, Comey felt the president was trying to befriend him.

Did he urge Comey at a February meeting to drop his probe of the Russian Federation connections of Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn?

On McCaskill's recollection that Rosenstein said he knew of Comey's firing before writing the memo, Rubio said, "I'm not sure he addressed that with a level of clarity that most people wanted to hear". We need to be focused on what our role is. But Trump said later that he had already chose to let Comey go.

At the time, the president's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, flatly said the story was entirely untrue, but refused to take any questions.

The Russia matter has consumed Washington and overshadowed Republican legislative priorities including a planned healthcare overhaul and sweeping tax cuts, something the party had hoped to make rapid progress on given its control of the White House and both chambers of Congress. Others are already considering leaving, and allies due to join the administration say they are holding off. And Comey has long arms so Comey said he pre-emptively reached out for a handshake and grabbed the president's hand.

The winners of such a shift could be congressional Republicans. "It's special. The FBI has not had that special reputation with what happened in the campaign, what happened with respect to the Clinton campaign, and directly and indirectly to the more successful Trump campaign". A Gallup tracking poll put Trump's approval rating at a historically low 38 percent, even before the latest wave of scandals.

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