The Republican chairmen of two powerful committees in the House asked the Justice Department on Wednesday to investigate a series of leaks to the media relating to Michael Flynn and communications with Russia's ambassador to the United States.
Flynn resigned as President Donald Trump's national security adviser on Monday.
"According to some of the reports, the information may come from classified intelligence products," Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in a letter to the Justice Department's inspector general.
"We have serious concerns about the potential inadequate protection of classified information here," they wrote.
Flynn resigned days after The Washington Post, citing current and former administration officials, reported that Flynn discussed sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Trump was inaugurated.
The paper reported Monday that the Justice Department, led by then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, informed the White House last month that Flynn was not entirely forthcoming about the calls or their substance — opening him to the possibility of blackmail by the Kremlin.
At a news conference Wednesday with Israel's prime minister, Trump blamed the media for treating Flynn "unfairly" and pointed the finger at the U.S. intelligence community for what he called "illegal leaks."
"From intelligence, papers are being leaked, things are being leaked — it's criminal action, criminal act, and it's been going on for a long time," Trump said.
The letter from Chaffetz and Goodlatte also come a day after The New York Times published an article citing current and former U.S. officials as saying members of Trump's campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence officials a year before the election.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, accused Chaffetz of taking "marching orders" from the president by focusing on the leaks instead of Flynn. "Congress should be doing independent oversight of the Executive Branch and protecting whistleblowers, not running interference while the White House conceals their abuses and misleads the American people for weeks," Cummings said in a statement.
A senior intelligence official told NBC News that some Trump campaign aides and Trump business associates had contact with Russians during the presidential campaign, but current and former officials said there was no indication that those Russians were connected to intelligence services — and so far, nothing has been found to indicate any collusion with the Russians to influence the election.
U.S. intelligence officials have said Russia was suspected of having been involved in cyber-attacks on Democratic Party institutions during the election. A government intelligence report released in January concluded that the Russian campaign evolved into an attempt to help Trump win.
NBC News has reported that U.S. intelligence officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin became personally involved. Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Wednesday on MSNBC that Republicans were more interested in investigating the leaks than any possible links with Russia.
"An independent, nonpartisan commission is the only way to really get to the bottom of this," he said. "Give it subpoena power and allow it to do what the Republicans have been explicit that the two existing intelligence committee investigations are not going to do."
A bipartisan letter from the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday asked the Justice Department for briefings and documents related to the circumstances that led to Flynn’s resignation, citing media reports.
"These reports raise substantial questions about the content and context of Mr. Flynn's discussions with Russian officials, the conclusions reached by the Justice Department and the actions it took in response, as well as possible leaks of classified information by current and former government employees," said the letter from Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Dianne Feinstein, D-California.