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'Get off Twitter, Mr President'

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Donald Trump's tweets undermining White House's attempts at damage control on probes, say Republicans

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump sought to insert himself into congressional investigations on Russia on Wednesday, urging lawmakers to hear from one of his former advisers, Mr Carter Page, to counter testimony by directors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Mr Trump has been dismissive of probes by the FBI and several congressional panels into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and potential collusion with his campaign.

In a series of early morning tweets, the Republican president quoted a Monday letter from Mr Page in which he asked to address the House Intelligence Committee promptly and referred to faulty testimony from US intelligence officials.

Mr Trump accused Democrats of blocking Mr Page's testimony, without citing evidence but referring to an unidentified report.

"So now it is reported that the Democrats, who have excoriated Carter Page about Russia, don't want him to testify. He blows away their case against him & now wants to clear his name by showing 'the false or misleading testimony by James Comey, John Brennan...' Witch Hunt!" Mr Trump wrote on Twitter, referring to the former directors of the FBI and CIA.

Mr Trump's tweets came as his advisers are planning to establish a "war room" to combat mounting questions about communication between Russia and his presidential campaign before and after last November's election.

The White House said on Wednesday it would not answer any more questions about the investigations.

"Going forward, all questions on these matters will be referred to outside counsel Marc Kasowitz," White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters when asked about a media report on what Mr Comey planned to say in congressional testimony.

White House spokesman Michael Short confirmed that the new policy would apply to all aspects of the Russia probes being conducted by Congress and the FBI.

However, the president's penchant for tweeting could complicate White House efforts to tamp down the scandal if the messages appear to address the investigations.

Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, swatted back at Mr Trump on Twitter with a reference to the president's acknowledgment to NBC that he was thinking of "this Russia thing" when he fired Mr Comey on May 9.

"@POTUS, appreciate suggestion on witnesses but feel you may not have probe's interests at heart. Ex: Firing FBI Dir because of Russia probe," Mr Schiff wrote.

Democrats say Mr Comey's dismissal was aimed at hindering the FBI's Russia investigation, which has since been taken over by a special counsel, Mr Robert Mueller, himself a former FBI director.

Mr Trump's fellow Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have urged him to tweet less.

Representative Sean Duffy said the Russia investigations were becoming too much of a distraction in Mr Trump's four-month-old presidency.

"I think the president should step aside from any comments, any tweets on the investigation and focus on the agenda that he ran on," Mr Duffy said on CNN. - REUTERS

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