WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations says there's no question Russia was involved in the U.S. presidential election and insists President Donald Trump would fully support strong action against the Kremlin once investigations are complete.
Speaking in television interviews broadcast Sunday, Nikki Haley contended there is no contradiction between her tough stance and Trump's repeated public statements seeking to minimize Russia's role. She said Trump "has not once" told her to stop "beating up on Russia."
She joins Defense Secretary James Mattis as Trump administration officials who have forcefully called out Russia for its actions during the 2016 U.S. campaign.
"We don't want any country involved in our elections, ever," Haley said. "We need to be very strong on that."
Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied his country meddled in the 2016 contest between Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. While Trump himself has said he believes Russian operatives hacked Democratic Party emails during the election, he has repeatedly lambasted as "fake news" any suggestion that he or his staff had connections to Russia.
Trump continued his attacks over the weekend, tweeting: "It is the same Fake News Media that said there is `no path to victory for Trump' that is now pushing the phony Russia story. A total scam!"
He added on Sunday: "The real story turns out to be SURVEILLANCE and LEAKING! Find the leakers."
U.S. intelligence agencies report that Russia tried to help Trump's campaign effort. The FBI as well as congressional committees are investigating whether the Russian government coordinated with Trump associates during the campaign. The White House is also trying to quell a firestorm over its behind-the-scenes role in helping the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, view secret intelligence reports that he says pointed to inappropriate leaking.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the panel, went to the White House on Friday to view materials that he said were "precisely the same." He declined on Sunday to describe the contents, but criticized the unorthodox disclosure to Nunes, suggesting that the material was more likely an "effort to deflect attention" and "create a cloud through which the public cannot see."
"Whenever they see the president use the word `fake,' it should set off alarm bells," Schiff said. "I think that's really what going on here."
Trump as president persuaded Haley to leave the governorship of South Carolina to represent the U.S. at the United Nations. She said she was "beating up on Russia" over issues such as its actions in Crimea and its dispute with Ukraine.
When asked if she believes Trump should publicly take a harder Russia stance, she said: "Of course, he's got a lot of things he's doing."
"There's no love or anything going on with Russia right now," Haley said. "They get that we're getting our strength back, that we're getting our voice back and that we're starting to lead again, and, honestly, at the United Nations, that's the No. 1 comment I get is that they're just so happy to see the United States lead again."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who chairs the Armed Services Committee, said it was indisputable that Russia attempted to influence the U.S. election, reiterating his call for a special select committee.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he didn't think another review was necessary, citing the bipartisan work from the Senate Intelligence Committee.
"I think they clearly laid out that they're going wherever the facts take them," McConnell said, referring to Republican chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina and Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the panel. "We don't need yet another investigation. We know the FBI is looking at it from their perspective."
Dmitry Peskov, Putin's press secretary, said Russia was not worried about what any U.S. investigation might reveal. "We insist that any blaming that Russia could have been interfering in domestic affairs of the United States is slander," he said.
On other topics, Haley said the U.S. is also pressing China to take a firmer stand regarding North Korea's nuclear program. Trump is scheduled to meet later this week with Chinese President Xi Jinping over a range of issues. While China provides diplomatic and economic support to its neighbor, it claims that its influence over Kim Jong Un's government is limited.
U.N. resolutions have failed so far to deter North Korea from conducting nuclear and missile tests. Last year, the North conducted two nuclear tests and two dozen tests of ballistic missiles.
"They need to show us how concerned they are," Haley said. "They need to put pressure on North Korea. The only country that can stop North Korea is China, and they know that."
Asked what the U.S. would do if China doesn't cooperate, Haley said: "China has to cooperate."
Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, however, said he doubted that Beijing will cooperate.
"I've been working on the North Korea problem since 1994," he said. "And we have consistently asked Chinese leaders ... because they uniquely have the historical and the economic relationship with North Korea to make a difference.
"They haven't used that influence, and so it's hard for me to be optimistic with that," he said.
Haley, Peskov, McCain and Carter appeared on ABC's "This Week," Haley also was on CBS' "Face the Nation," Schiff spoke on CNN's "State of the Union," and McConnell appeared on "Fox News Sunday" and NBC's "Meet The Press."
On the defensive, the White House is throwing counter punches to deflect attention from three investigations into the Kremlin's interference in last year's election and possible Russian ties to President Donald Trump or his associates.
The White House says the real story is not about Russia, but about how Obama administration officials allegedly leaked and mishandled classified material about Americans. Reaching back to campaign mode, Trump aides also contend that Hillary Clinton had more extensive ties to Moscow than Trump.
Arguing the White House's case Friday, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said: "There is a concern that people misused, mishandled, misdirected classified information -- leaked it out, spread it out, violated civil liberties."
The White House has not pointed to any hard evidence to support its allegations, and instead has relied on media reports from some of the same publications Trump derides as "fake news." The truth is buried somewhere in classified material that is illegal to disclose.
THE FLYNN AFFAIR
Trump fired national security adviser Michael Flynn following news reports that Flynn misled the White House about his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. But the White House says the problem is that Flynn's conversations were in the news at all.
"The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?" Trump tweeted after firing Flynn in February.
The White House has called for investigations into the disclosure of multiple intercepted conversations that Flynn had with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before the inauguration. The government routinely monitors the communications of foreign officials in the U.S. It's illegal to publicly disclose such classified information.
Officially, the White House said Flynn was forced to resign because he'd give inaccurate descriptions of the discussions to Vice President Mike Pence and others in the White House. But Trump has continued to defend Flynn, suggesting he was only fired because information about his contacts came out in the media.
"Michael Flynn, Gen. Flynn is a wonderful man," Trump said. "I think he's been treated very, very unfairly by the media."
THE DEEP STATE?
White House officials say some Obama holdovers are part of a so-called deep state out to tear Trump down.
This week, the White House latched onto a month-old television interview from an Obama administration official who said she encouraged congressional aides to gather as much information on Russia as possible before the inauguration.
Evelyn Farkas, the former deputy assistant secretary of defense, said she feared that information "would disappear" after President Barack Obama left office.
Spicer called Farkas' comments "devastating" and said they "raised serious concerns on whether or not there was an organized and widespread effort by the Obama administration to use and leak highly sensitive intelligence information for political purposes."
Farkas was no longer in government when she urged officials to collect intelligence on "the staff, the Trump staff, dealing with Russians." She left the Pentagon in 2015, just over a year before the election. She says she was offering advice to associates and did not pass on actual information.
Obama administration officials have acknowledged that there were efforts to preserve information that could be related to the Russian investigations, as was first reported in The New York Times. Former Obama officials contend that intelligence was disseminated to pockets of the government where officials had clearance to see classified reports, not publicly leaked.
Still, Farkas herself connected the concerns among government officials about the Trump campaign's possible ties to Russia to the information winding up in the press.
"That's why you have the leaking," Farkas said in the March 2 interview on MSNBC. "People are worried."
THE HILL WEIGHS IN
The White House has embraced a top Republican's assertion that information about Trump associates were improperly spread around the government in the final days of the Obama administration. It appears the White House played a role in helping House intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., acquire some of that information.
Nunes announced last week that he had seen intelligence reports showing that Trump aides' communications were picked up through routine surveillance. But he said their identities may have been improperly revealed. The California congressman later said he viewed the reports at the White House.
The White House contends that Nunes' information -- which has not been made public -- validates Trump's explosive claim that his predecessor wiretapped his New York skyscraper. Nunes has disputed that but still says he found the reports "troubling."
The White House's apparent involvement in helping Nunes access the information has overshadowed what Trump officials contend are real concerns about how much information about Americans is disseminated in intelligence reports. Trump has asked the House and Senate intelligence committees to include the matter in their Russia investigations.
Trump won the election, but thinks it's his vanquished opponent whose ties to Russia should be investigated.
Some of the White House's allegations against Clinton stem from her four years as secretary of state, a role that gave her ample reasons to have frequent contacts with Russia.
To deflect questions about Trump's friendly rhetoric toward Russia, the White House points to the fact that Clinton was a central figure in the Obama administration's attempt to "reset" relations with Moscow -- an effort that crumbled after Vladimir Putin took back the presidency.
"When you compare the two sides in terms of who's actually engaging with Russia, trying to strengthen them, trying to act with them, trying to interact with them, it is night and day between our actions and her actions," Spicer said.
Rex Tillerson, Trump's secretary of state, has deep ties to Russia from his time running ExxonMobil and cutting oil deals with Moscow.
The White House has also tried to link Clinton to Russia's purchase of a controlling stake in a mining company with operations in the U.S., arguing that she was responsible for "selling off one-fifth of our country's uranium."
The Clinton-led State Department was among nine U.S. government agencies that had to approve the purchase of Uranium One. According to Politifact, some investors in the company had relationships with former President Bill Clinton and donated to the Clinton Foundation. However, the fact checking site says most of those donations occurred well before Clinton became secretary of state and was in position to have a say in the agreement.