By Matthew Rusling
WASHINGTON, May 18 (Xinhua) -- Some Republicans in U.S. Congress are beginning to distance themselves from President Donald Trump amid allegations that he shared intel with Russia, sparking speculation that more Republican lawmakers may follow.
The Washington Post on Monday sparked a firestorm when it revealed that Trump shared sensitive intel with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a White House meeting last week. This is the latest in a string of allegations that the Trump administration is in bed with Russia - which the president vehemently denies.
U.S. conservative media has noted that U.S. presidents have broad legal authority to classify or declassify any intel they want to. Some pundits also note that the Post story failed to disclose just how senior its sources are and whether the sources really have a grasp on what a president is permitted and not permitted to do.
The Post story also has been accused of editorializing instead of simply reporting facts. Observers also note that the White House routinely shared intel with other countries.
But there's more to the scandal. At the same time, Trump is under scrutiny for allegedly asking James Comey, former FBI director just fired by Trump, to halt an investigation into the relations between former Trump's national security adviser Mike Flynn and Russia.
Critics said Trump fired Comey as an effort to prevent embarrassing information from getting out. Trump has also strongly denied the accusations.
But whatever the truth, the media frenzy may be pushing Republican lawmakers away from Trump in the lead-up to the 2018 mid-term elections. Indeed, some Republican lawmakers want to look into the matter more closely.
Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz, chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, recently penned a letter to acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, requesting access to Comey's notes when Trump allegedly asked him to pull the plug on the inquiry over Flynn.
House Speaker Paul Ryan agreed with the request, according to a statement from his spokesperson, Ashlee Strong.
"At this point, the Republican Congress is trying to find a way to get to the bottom of the allegations about the ties between members of the Trump Administration and Russia," Dan Mahaffee, senior vice president and director of policy at the Center for the Study of Congress and the Presidency, told Xinhua.
Republican lawmakers also want to "distance themselves from a scandal that is threatening to overwhelm this Presidency," Mahaffee said.
He said the firing of Comey opened the floodgates surrounding this scandal, and many Republican leaders have to be now thinking about the broader damage to the party in 2018 and beyond, referring to the mid-term elections next year.
"Unless they are able to completely change the course of this crisis - perhaps by setting up an independent investigation and getting everything out in the open - the Trump policy agenda, and many key GOP goals, are on life support," Mahaffee said.
Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies of the Brookings Institution, told Xinhua the controversy is "a major setback for Trump's policy agenda."
Indeed, Trump was elected in large part as an agent that could rejuvenate an economy that has still not fully recovered from the 2007-2008 economic disaster. Now experts said the dust-up could distract him from his policy agenda.
"Instead of discussing tax reform and healthcare repeal, leaders are focused on the Russia investigation and whether Trump obstructed justice in this case," West said.
The whole situation has taken the president and congressional leaders off-message and forced them to explain what the ties were between Trump's staff and Russia, he said.
Republicans have criticized Trump for his actions on Comey, but have not been very forceful at pushing an investigation. They are worried about Trump's declining poll numbers, but most Republican legislators have been pretty muted in their comments.
"They are waiting to see what gets uncovered and how much trouble the president is in," West added.