Russia President Vladimir Putin has offered to turn over to Congress records of President Donald Trump’s discussions with Russian diplomats in which Mr Trump is said to have disclosed classified information.
Mr Putin’s remarks come as Washington was reeling over revelations late on Tuesday that President Trump personally appealed to FBI Director James Comey to abandon the bureau’s investigation into National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
The White House issued a furious denial after Mr Comey’s notes detailed Mr Trump’s request.
The White House has played down the importance and secrecy of the information President Trump gave to the Russians, which had been supplied by Israel under an intelligence-sharing agreement.
Mr Trump himself said he had “an absolute right” as president to share “facts pertaining to terrorism” and airline safety with Russia.
Yet US allies and some members of Congress expressed concern bordering on alarm.
President Putin told a news conference that he would be willing to turn over notes of Mr Trump’s meeting with the Russian diplomats if the White House agreed.
He dismissed outrage over President Trump’s disclosures as US politicians whipping up “anti-Russian sentiment”.
Asked what he thinks of the Trump presidency, Mr Putin said it is up to the American people to judge but his performance can only be rated “only when he’s allowed to work at full capacity,” implying that someone is hampering President Trump’s efforts.
As for Mr Comey, whom President Trump fired last week, the FBI director wrote in a memo after a February meeting at the White House that the new president had asked him to shut down the FBI’s investigation of Mr Flynn and his Russian contacts, said a person who had read the memo.
The Flynn investigation was part of a broader probe into Russian interference in last year’s presidential election.
Mr Comey’s memo, an apparent effort to create a paper trail of his contacts with the White House, would be the clearest evidence to date that the president has tried to influence the investigation.
Rep Jason Chaffetz, Republican chairman of the House oversight committee, sent a letter to the FBI on Tuesday requesting that it turn over all documents and recordings that detail communications between Mr Comey and President Trump.
He said he would give the FBI a week and then “if we need a subpoena, we’ll do it”.
The panel’s top Democrat, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, a constant Trump critic, called the allegation of Trump pressure on Mr Comey “explosive” and said “it appears like a textbook case of criminal obstruction of justice”.
John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said late on Tuesday that the developments had reached “Watergate size and scale”.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate, said simply: “It would be helpful to have less drama emanating from the White House.”
The White House vigorously denied it all.
As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 16, 2017
“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,” a White House statement said.
President Trump fired Gen Flynn on February 13, on grounds that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about his contacts with Russians.
The intensifying drama comes as President Trump is set to embark on his first foreign trip, which had been optimistically viewed by some aides as an opportunity to reset an administration floundering under an inexperienced president.
When Mr Trump fired Mr Comey, he said he did so based on Mr Comey’s very public handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and how it affected his leadership of the FBI.
But the White House has provided differing accounts of the firing. And politicians have alleged that the sudden ousting was an attempt to stifle the bureau’s investigation into Trump associates’ ties to Russia’s meddling in the campaign.
Mark Warner of Virginia, top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said he would ask Mr Comey for additional material as part of that panel’s investigation. “Memos, transcripts, tapes – the list keeps getting longer,” he said.
According to the Times, Mr Comey wrote in the February memo that President Trump told him Gen Flynn had done nothing wrong.
Mr Comey said he replied that “I agree he is a good guy” but said nothing to President Trump about limiting the investigation.
The newspaper said Mr Comey was in the Oval Office that day with other national security officials for a terrorism threat briefing.
When that ended, President Trump asked everyone to leave except Mr Comey, and he eventually turned the conversation to Gen Flynn.
The administration spent the first half of Tuesday defending President Trump’s disclosure of classified information to senior Russian officials.
National Security Adviser HR McMaster said the president’s comments were “wholly appropriate”.
He used that phrase nine times in his briefing to reporters.
The highly classified information about an Islamic State plot was collected by Israel, a crucial source of intelligence and close partner in the fight against some of the America’s fiercest threats in the Middle East.
President Trump’s disclosure of the information threatened to fray that partnership and piled pressure on the White House to explain the apparently on-the-spot decision to reveal the information to Russian diplomats in the Oval Office.