Congressional leaders said they will investigate growing questions over contacts between Russia and top advisers to U.S. President Donald Trump in the weeks and months before he took office.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on February 14 that he expects the Senate Intelligence Committee will interview Michael Flynn, the White House national security adviser who was pushed out on February 13 over his undisclosed pre-inaugural conversations with Russia's ambassador to the United States.
The calls for inquiries in Congress came as U.S. media reported that Trump associates and staff had numerous contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the November 8 presidential election, though no evidence of collusion was reported.
And it came as the White House conceded that Trump knew for weeks that Flynn, his ousted security adviser, had misled the White House about his contacts with Russia.
Flynn was not forced out until news reports came out last week saying he had discussed Russian sanctions with Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, undercutting public statements by both Flynn and Vice President Mike Pence that the conversations did not involve sanctions.
Flynn: 'No Lines Crossed'
Flynn told the Daily Caller on February 14 that "there were no lines crossed" in his conversations with Kislyak. He said they spoke only about the 35 Russian diplomats expelled by the Obama administration on December 29 as part of a final round of sanctions against Russia. That same day, the Obama White House sanctioned Russia's intelligence agencies for their roles in allegedly hacking the U.S. presidential election.
"It wasn't about sanctions. It was about the 35 guys who were thrown out," Flynn said. "It was basically: 'Look, I know this happened. We'll review everything.' I never said anything such as, 'We're going to review sanctions,' or anything like that."
But Reuters reported that phone transcripts show that Flynn told Kislyak that if Russia did not to respond in kind to the Obama sanctions as it had when sanctions were announced in the past, that could smooth the way toward a broader discussion of improving U.S.-Russian relations once Trump took power.
After the U.S. sanctions were announced, Russian President Vladimir Putin took the uncharacteristic step of announcing he would not respond in kind, and instead he invited U.S. diplomats in Moscow to join Christmas celebrations at the Kremlin.
The growing questions about Russia's relations with the Trump administration prompted U.S. lawmakers, including some leading Republicans, to call for a deeper inquiry into not just Flynn's actions but broader White House ties to Russia.
Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Trump only moved against Flynn because he was attracting to so much news media attention.
"The reason they lost faith or trust in General Flynn only last night when they knew for weeks that he had been lying was that it became public," Schiff told MSNBC.
The White House confirmed on February 14 that the FBI interviewed Flynn about his conversations with Kislyak as part of its investigation into Russian influence in the U.S. election and the Justice Department notified the White House about discrepancies between Flynn's public and private accounts of the conversations shortly after Trump took office.
But White House press secretary Sean Spicer insisted there were no legal problem with Flynn's conversations, but rather the way the matter was handled undermined Trump's and Pence's trust in him as an adviser.
WATCH: White House Says 'Unsustainable Situation' Led To Flynn Resignation
But the White House explanations satisfied few in Congress. Two leading Senate Republicans, Bob Corker and John Cornyn, agreed with McConnell that the Senate Intelligence Committee should investigate Flynn's contacts with Russia.
McCain, a leading Republican voice on foreign relations, said Flynn's resignation raised questions about the administration's intentions toward Putin's Russia.
Meanwhile, congressional Democrats called for aggressive independent investigations into the matter and demanded to know how much Trump knew about his aides' Russia ties.
U.S. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called for an investigation of potential criminal violations surrounding the resignation of Flynn.
"What I am calling for is an independent investigation with executive authority to pursue potential criminal actions," to be led by newly installed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions or White House lawyers, Schumer said.