Republicans seek to temper fallout from latest Russia bombshells

Republican lawmakers on Sunday sought to temper the impact of the latest bombshell reports involving President TrumpDonald John TrumpA better VA, with mental health services, is essential for America's veterans Pelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Trump arrives in Japan to kick off 4-day state visit MORE and Russia, while their Democratic colleagues renewed calls to protect special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump orders more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions Trump: Democrats just want Mueller to testify for a 'do-over' Graham: Mueller investigation a 'political rectal exam' MORE's investigation.

The responses came after both The New York Times and The Washington Post reported new details over the weekend involving allegations of Trump's close ties with Moscow, sparking renewed concerns about the fate of Mueller's probe.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOn The Money: Conservative blocks disaster relief bill | Trade high on agenda as Trump heads to Japan | Boeing reportedly faces SEC probe over 737 Max | Study finds CEO pay rising twice as fast as worker pay Conservative blocks House passage of disaster relief bill The Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan MORE (R-Texas), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on NBC criticized Washington, D.C.'s, focus on the Mueller investigation as out of touch with the rest of the country.

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And Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump declassification move unnerves Democrats Climate change is a GOP issue, too New Yorker cover titled 'The Shining' shows Graham, McConnell, Barr polishing Trump's shoes MORE (R-S.C.), a close ally of the president, raised doubts about some of the reporting's accuracy.

The New York Times reported Friday that the FBI was so concerned about Trump’s firing of former bureau chief James ComeyJames Brien ComeyFive takeaways from Barr's new powers in 'spying' probe Trump orders intel agencies to cooperate with Barr probe into 'spying' on 2016 campaign Attorney General Barr puts former intel bosses on notice MORE that it opened an inquiry into whether the president was working on behalf of Russian interests.

And The Washington Post reported on Saturday that Trump has kept details of his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin from top officials in his administration, including withholding notes from an interpreter. 

The White House dismissed the reports as “inaccurate” and defended Trump’s record on Russia, while the president called the stories “insulting” and “ridiculous.” 

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: 1,500 troops heading to Mideast to counter Iran | Trump cites Iran tensions to push through Saudi arms sale | Senate confirms Army, Navy chiefs before weeklong recess Senators say Trump using loophole to push through Saudi arms sale Trump to send 1,500 troops to Middle East to counter Iran MORE would not directly address The New York Times story, but in a Sunday interview called it "ludicrous" to consider Trump a national security threat.

Both parties on Sunday called for a closer look at Trump’s behavior toward Russia, with Democrats and Republicans both saying Trump's actions speak for themselves. However, Democrats argue that Trump has been soft on Russia while Republicans believe the opposite.

Multiple GOP guests appearing on the Sunday show circuit pointed to the Trump administration’s track record of levying sanctions against Moscow and expelling a number of Russian diplomats from the U.S. as evidence the president is tough on Russia.

Graham on “Fox News Sunday” expressed skepticism with the accuracy of the Times report and suggested it provided more proof of bias at the FBI than evidence against Trump.

"I, for one, don’t trust what I read in The New York Times," he said, but added "if this really did happen, Congress needs to know about it."

Cruz said he would consider any corroborated allegations that emerge, but called it "premature" to attempt to subpoena notes of the president's meetings with Putin.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyRepublicans spend more than million at Trump properties The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi fires back in feud with Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes MORE (R-Calif.) defended Trump's right to keep private the details of his meetings with Putin, suggesting on CBS's "Face the Nation" that doing so was part of the president's strategy to build a relationship with a foreign leader.

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"I know this administration. I know this Congress is very tough on Russia, and we will continue to be so," he said. "But I want this president to be able to build a relationship, even on a personal level with all the world leaders as well."

However, Democrats on Sunday highlighted the president's call during the 2016 campaign for Russia to hack Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton slams Trump for spreading 'sexist trash' about Pelosi Gillibrand seizes on abortion debate to jump-start campaign DNC boss says candidates to be involved in debate lottery MORE's emails; his public skepticism over the U.S. intelligence community's assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 election; and his performance at a joint press conference with Putin last year in Helsinki.

“The right answer is … to protect the Mueller investigation at all costs, let it get to its end, make sure that the results are made public,” Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Defense: Details on Senate's 0B defense bill | Bill rejects Trump plan to skirt budget caps | Backfills money for border wall | Defense chief says more troops could head to Mideast Dem senator plans amendment to restrict military action against Iran Overnight Defense: Iran worries dominate foreign policy talk | Pentagon reportedly to send WH plans for 10K troops in Mideast | Democrats warn Trump may push through Saudi arms sale | Lawmakers blast new Pentagon policy on sharing info MORE (D-Va.) said on “Meet the Press.”

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTrump declassification move unnerves Democrats Hillicon Valley: Assange hit with 17 more charges | Facebook removes record 2.2B fake profiles | Senate passes anti-robocall bill | Senators offer bill to help companies remove Huawei equipment Senators offer bipartisan bill to help US firms remove Huawei equipment from networks MORE (D-Va.), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on CNN that whether Trump ever worked on behalf of the Russians is "the defining question" of Mueller's investigation.  

Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsOil companies join blitz for carbon tax Mnuchin says carbon capture tax credit guidance will be out soon Mnuchin signals administration won't comply with subpoena for Trump tax returns MORE (D-Del.) on Fox News maintained that the latest reports underscore the need to allow Mueller's investigation to reach "its logical conclusion."

The chairmen of the House Foreign Relations, Judiciary and Intelligence committees have all said in the wake of this weekend's reports that they will look into Trump's relationship with Russia.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi fires back in feud with Trump Tillerson told lawmakers Putin was more prepared than Trump for meeting: report Tillerson meets with House Foreign Affairs Committee MORE (D-N.Y.) responded Saturday to the Post story with a pledge for upcoming hearings.

The future of the Mueller investigation, which has thus far implicated five former Trump associates and more than 20 Russian nationals, is also sure to be front-and-center at this week's confirmation hearings for attorney general nominee William Barr.

Democrats have uniformly said they'd like guarantees from Barr that he will not allow interference in Mueller's investigation.

"I mean, clearly he’s a good lawyer. No question," Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Democrats to House: Tamp down the impeachment talk Threat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Senate Democrats request watchdog, Red Cross probe DHS detention facilities MORE (D-Ill.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on "This Week."

"But when it comes to this delicate political situation, the power of the presidency, whether this investigation is warranted, Bill Barr had better give us some ironclad, rock-bottom assurances in terms of his independence and his willingness to step back and let Mueller finish his job," Durbin said.