Amid reports President Donald Trump is considering presidential pardons for family members, aides and even himself, he has insisted he has the “complete power” to pardon people.
Democratic Party spokesman Mark Warner has called the reports “extremely disturbing”.
The US authorities are probing possible collusion between the Trump team and Russia. Intelligence agencies think Russia tried to help Donald Trump to power.
Moscow denies this, and President Trump says there was no collusion.
The Washington Post reported on July 20 that Donald Trump and his team were looking at ways to pardon people close to him.
Presidents can pardon people before guilt is established or even before the person is charged with a crime.
Describing the reports as disturbing, Senator Mark Warner, who sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said “pardoning any individuals who may have been involved would be crossing a fundamental line”.
On July 22, President Trump tweeted: “While all agree the U. S. President has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us. FAKE NEWS.”
Donald Trump also attacked “illegal leaks” following reports his attorney general discussed campaign-related matters with a Russian envoy.
The Washington Post gave an account of meetings Attorney General Jeff Sessions held with the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak. The newspaper quoted current and former US officials who cited intelligence intercepts of Sergey Kislyak’s version of the encounter to his superiors.
One of those quoted said Ambassador Kislyak spoke to Jeff Sessions about key campaign issues, including Donald Trump’s positions on policies significant to Russia.
During his confirmation hearing earlier this year, Jeff Sessions said he had no contact with Russians during the election campaign. When it later emerged he had, he said the campaign was not discussed at the meetings.
An official confirmed to Reuters the detail of the intercepts, but there has been no independent corroboration.
The officials spoken to by the Post said that Sergey Kislyak could have exaggerated the account, and cited a Justice Department spokesperson who repeated that Jeff Sessions did not discuss interference in the election.
However, the Post‘s story was the focus of one of many tweets President Trump fired off on July 22.
“A new INTELLIGENCE LEAK from the Amazon Washington Post, this time against A.G. Jeff Sessions. These illegal leaks, like Comey’s, must stop!” the president said.
The Washington Post is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who has been an occasional sparring partner for Donald Trump. “Comey” refers to James Comey, the former FBI director President Trump fired.
Earlier this week, President Trump told the New York Times he regretted hiring Jeff Sessions because he had stepped away from overseeing an inquiry into alleged Russian meddling in the US election.
Jeff Sessions recused himself in March amid pressure over his meetings with Sergey Kislyak. He says he plans to continue in his role as attorney general.
Several other regular targets for Donald Trump featured in his series of tweets.
The president accused the “failing” New York Times of foiling an attempt to assassinate ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
It is not clear what President Trump was referring to, but on July 22 a US general complained on Fox News that a “good lead” on Anu Nakr al-Baghdadi was leaked to a national newspaper in 2015.
A New York Times report at the time revealed that valuable information had been extracted from a raid, but the paper stressed on July 22 that no-one had taken issue with their reporting until now.
Donald Trump again urged Republicans to “step up to the plate” and repeal and replace President Obama’s healthcare reforms, a key campaign pledge of his that has collapsed in Congress.