WASHINGTON -- As the Senate Intelligence Committee continues to probe possible collusion between Moscow and Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, the president wants the panel to investigate one of his self-described enemies: the news media.
A day after the panel's chairman and vice chairman, GOP Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Mark Warner of Virginia, announced the entire committee has reached a "general consensus" that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. They also formally gave the Intelligence Committee's endorsement of an intelligence community report issued last fall that issued a warning about the Kremlin's meddling.
But during a midday press conference, Burr and Warner declined to discuss even their initial findings -- while sending a message to the president and his aides that they remain on the lookout for evidence of assistance the campaign organization might have given to Russia to assist its disinformation program
"The committee continues to look into all evidence to see if there was any hint of collusion," Burr told reporters.
"We hope we will very soon reach some definite conclusion," he added minutes later, an indication he and Warner want to address the matter in their final report, which they want to release prior to the 2018 midterm election cycle. And, if damning for the president's team, that could hurt Republican congressional candidates.
Though the duo did not tip their collective hand on the collusion question -- which could land Trump campaign aides or even the president himself in hot water -- what they did say got the president's attention.
He took to Twitter before 7 a.m. (EDT) Thursday to criticize the committee, asking why it is not "looking into the Fake News Networks in OUR country to see why so much of our news is just made up-FAKE!"
Trump's call for news organizations to be investigated by a congressional committee is his latest attack on the First Amendment. Just a few weeks ago, as Puerto Rico was dealing with category five Hurricane Maria, Trump spent five days slamming NFL players who kneel during the national anthem to protest perceived social ills.
Though Trump frequently attacks the media, Burr and Warner walked and chatted with reporters Wednesday, patiently answering their questions about the ongoing Russia probe.
Trump lashed out at the media while on board Air Force One on Wednesday en route to Las Vegas to meet with victims of and emergency personnel who responded to the mass murder there on Sunday night at a music festival. He criticized NBC News for an article that alleged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the president a "moron" following a July meeting at the Pentagon, and considering quitting.
Shortly after Trump's in-air tweet, Tillerson delivered what amounted to a loyalty pledge. He called Trump "smart" and denied the report's allegation that Vice President Mike Pence had to talk him out of resigning -- but not that he used the pejorative term about Trump.
In another Thursday morning post, Trump again blasted NBC, contending that Tillerson "never threatened to resign."
He accused the network of having "low standards," and not seeking "verification" from Trump himself before publishing the article, which included this description of its sourcing: "NBC News spoke with a dozen current and former senior administration officials for this article, as well as others who are close to the president."
(c)2017 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved
Visit CQ Roll Call at www.rollcall.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.