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Trump says he has 'complete power to pardon' amid probes of Russia role in US election

The US Senate Judiciary Committee said on Friday that Trump Jr and Paul Manafort had agreed to negotiate whether to be interviewed by the panel in its Russia investigation. Photograph: (Reuters)

Reuters Norfolk, VA, United States Jul 22, 2017, 10.50 PM (IST)

US President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Saturday declaring that he has "complete power to pardon," as his administration continued to be bogged down by ongoing investigations of possible ties between his 2016 campaign and Russia.

Trump did not specify who, if anyone, he might consider pardoning. But his tweets appeared to be in response to Washington Post reports this week that Trump and his legal team have examined presidential powers to pardon Trump aides, family members and possibly even himself.

Reuters has not independently confirmed the newspaper accounts.

"While all agree the US President has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us. FAKE NEWS," Trump wrote.

The Washington Post, citing current and former US officials, reported on Friday that Russia's ambassador to the United States was overheard by US spy agencies telling his bosses that he had discussed campaign-related matters with Trump adviser Jeff Sessions last year, when Sessions was a US senator.

"These illegal leaks...must stop," Trump tweeted on Saturday.

Sessions now heads the Justice Department, serving as Trump's attorney general.

Sessions had initially failed to disclose at the confirmation hearing for his Cabinet appointment his 2016 contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, and later said they were not about the campaign.

In March, Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe. During an interview with The New York Times this week, Trump lashed out at Sessions, telling the newspaper he would not have chosen him for attorney general had he known Sessions would recuse himself.

Scholars have raised questions about the scope of the president's legal authority in issuing pardons. If sometime in the future Trump moved to pardon himself, the US Supreme Court might have to decide on the constitutionality, some have speculated. 

Trump has not been accused of any wrongdoing by federal investigators who continue probes into Russia's role in trying to influence the 2016 US presidential election.

A special counsel, Robert Mueller, is looking into any relationships or contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russians last year during the hard-fought election with Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Congressional committees also are exploring Russia's influence into the US elections.

Trump traveled on Saturday to Norfolk, Virginia, where he spoke at a commissioning ceremony for the aircraft carrier the USS Gerald R. Ford.

In his remarks, Trump made no mention of the Russia controversy, focusing his speech on the need for more robust US military spending.

"We need Congress to do its job and pass the budget that provides for higher, stable and predictable funding levels for our military needs that our fighting men and women deserve and you will get," Trump said, referring to the defense build-up he is seeking.

The new ship is named after the Republican president who held the White House from 1974-1977.

The US Senate Judiciary Committee said on Friday that Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort had agreed to negotiate whether to be interviewed by the panel in its Russia investigation.

Trump Jr., Manafort and Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and now one of his senior advisers, all met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June 2016. That meeting was arranged in Trump Tower in New York after the lawyer offered damaging information about Clinton.

In his Saturday tweets, Trump also had words for Republican senators who have not been able to agree on a way forward to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama's healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act, which has become known as Obamacare and which Trump promised to do away with as president.

"The Republican Senators must step up to the plate and, after 7 years, vote to Repeal and Replace. Next, Tax Reform and Infrastructure. WIN!" he tweeted.

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