Trump unleashes Twitter storm as emboldened Democrats circle

Washington: Democrats have seized upon a newspaper report that the FBI investigated whether President Donald Trump has been working on behalf of Russia against US interests and will open a  House of Representatives inquiry.

The New York Times reported that the probe began in the days after Trump fired James Comey as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in May 2017 and said the agency's counter-intelligence investigators had to consider whether Trump's actions constituted a possible threat to national security.

President Donald Trump speaks from the Oval Office of the White House as he gives a prime-time address about border security on Thursday.Credit:AP

Meanwhile the partial  government shutdown over Trump's demand for $US5.7 billion ($7.9 billion) to build a wall along the US-Mexico border entered its 22nd day on Saturday, making it the longest shuttering of federal agencies in US history, with no end in sight.

Trump, holed up in the White House with Congress adjourned for the weekend, warned of a much lengthier impasse and blamed the Democrats.

"They’re the ones that are holding it up," he said during a telephone interview with Fox News on Saturday night. "It would take me 15 minutes to get a deal done, and everybody can go back to work."

Democrats say Trump shut the government in a "temper tantrum" by refusing to sign bipartisan funding legislation last year that did not include money for his wall.

The closure, which began on December 22, broke a decades-old record by a 1995-1996 shutdown under former President Bill Clinton that lasted 21 days.

Federal workers affected missed their first pay on Friday, heightening concerns about mounting financial pressures on employees, including air traffic controllers and airport security officials who continue to work without pay.

Demonstrators make their point outside of the White House on Saturday.Credit:Bloomberg

Trump is considering a possible national emergency declaration that would end the shutdown and allow him to obtain his wall funding by circumventing Congress. But on Saturday, he told Fox News he would rather Democrats took action, adding that he was waiting at the White House ready to cut a deal.

"I want to give them a chance to see if they can act responsibly," Trump said, calling the situation at the nation's southern border a "humanitarian crisis".

"They think it's politics. I think it's bad politics. This country wants to have protection at the border."

Democrats, who call a wall an ineffective, outdated answer to a complex problem, have passed several bills in the House of Representatives to reopen the government without funding for Trump's barrier. But the legislation has been ignored by the Republican-controlled Senate.

Migrants mainly from Mexico and Central America look on as US President Donald Trump gives his prime-time address about border security, watching from a border migrant shelter in Tijuana, Mexico. Credit:AP

Trump originally promised Mexico would pay for the wall, which he says is needed to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs. But Mexico has refused.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said of the FBI probe that his panel "will take steps to better understand both the president's actions and the FBI's response to that behaviour" in coming weeks.

He also said politicians would seek to protect investigators from the president's "increasingly unhinged attacks".

"There is no reason to doubt the seriousness or professionalism of the FBI, as the president did in reaction to this story," Nadler, a New York Democrat, said.

"We have learned from this reporting that, even in the earliest days of the Trump administration, the president's behaviour was so erratic and so concerning that the FBI felt compelled to do the unprecedented – open a counter-intelligence investigation into a sitting president."

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said he could not comment on the specifics of the report, but said his committee would press ahead with its probe of Trump's contacts with Russia.

"Counter-intelligence concerns about those associated with the Trump campaign, including the president himself, have been at the heart of our investigation since the beginning," said Schiff, a California Democrat.

Schiff said meetings, contacts and communications between Trump associates and Russians, as well as "the web of lies about those interactions, and the president's own statements and actions", have heightened the need to follow the evidence where it leads.

Trump took notes of a 2017 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hamburg from his own interpreter and took other steps to conceal details of their conversations, a report in The Washington Post said on Saturday.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about that report, which cited unnamed current and former US officials.

The New York Times said FBI officials became suspicious of Trump's ties to Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, but held off on opening an investigation until Trump tied his dismissal of Comey to a probe into allegations of election meddling by Russia.

The FBI also considered whether the Republican president's firing of Comey amounted to obstruction of justice.

US Special Counsel Robert Mueller took over the investigation into Trump days after the FBI opened it, as he examined allegations of Russian election interference, the Times reported. Russia denies it sought to influence the election.

Trump responded on Saturday by lashing out at the Times and former FBI leaders, and criticised the agency's earlier probe of Democrat Hillary Clinton, his rival in the 2016 election.

"Wow, just learned in the Failing New York Times that the corrupt former leaders of the FBI, almost all fired or forced to leave the agency for some very bad reasons, opened up an investigation on me, for no reason & with no proof, after I fired Lyin' James Comey, a total sleaze!," Trump tweeted.

Comey took to Twitter later on Saturday, offering a quote he attributed to former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt: "I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made."

Reuters, Washington Post, New York Times

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