WASHINGTON -- As Democrats and some Republicans called for investigations into ties between Russia, President Trump, and some of his top allies Tuesday, Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) instead questioned how intelligence agencies and then the media obtained the information that led to the resignation of Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.
"How did the intelligence community come upon this information in the first place?" he asked, noting there are "strict laws" to prohibit spying on American citizens such as Flynn. "Were those people following the law? And if so, how did that happen?"
In a call with reporters after meeting Tuesday with Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, Toomey fielded questions about the news of the day gripping Washington: Flynn's resignation over revelations that he spoke with a Russian ambassador about U.S. sanctions before Trump took office, and then lied to Vice President Pence about the nature of the call. Some U.S. officials reportedly had feared that Flynn could be blackmailed over the incident.
The conversations, discovered by the U.S. intelligence community and reported by the Washington Post, raised new questions about ties between Russia and Trump. Some top Republicans called for a full probe into Flynn's talks with the ambassador, and others want to dig further into Trump's apparent affinity for Russia.
Asked about that, Toomey, like some other Republicans, focused on how the details of Flynn's conversation were obtained and then released to reporters.
"Where did these leaks come from? Who made these leaks?" Toomey asked, echoing criticism Trump has made on Twitter.
In response to a question about Trump's links to Russia, Toomey added that "if there was something inappropriate in the discussion between General Flynn and a Russian, then by all means we ought to look into that," but then pivoted. "There's still this important question of where did this info originate and why and what was the legal basis for it?"
The connections between Flynn and the Russian ambassador were discovered by the FBI, which, the Post reported, regularly monitors the ambassador's communications. On Tuesday, Trump's spokesman, Sean Spicer, said Flynn had not violated any law, but was asked to step down because he had lost the president's trust.
Other lawmakers want a deeper focus on Flynn and Russia's activities.
"From Russia’s interference in our elections to its influence on our president and his administration, the American people deserve an immediate, comprehensive and independent investigation to get the facts on just how far this breach of national security goes," said a statement from Sen. Tom Carper (D., Del.).
Sens. John McCain (R., Ariz.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), head of the Foreign Relations Committee, also called for broad looks into Russia's efforts.
As to Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Toomey pledged his support of Gorsuch.
"I'm absolutely a 'yes' vote for the confirmation" Toomey told reporters after a roughly 30-minute meeting with the nominee, "barring some completely unanticipatable, shocking new discovery that I'm quite confident will not occur."
Toomey said Gorsuch "understands the proper role of a judge -- he will apply the law and the U.S. Constitution as they are written, not as someone might wish they had been written."
The subjects that dominated Toomey call's reflected the balancing act he and other Republicans have tried to maintain in the early days of the new administration: parrying the controversies and fires of the moment in exchange for advancing long-held conservative goals, such as filling a high court seat with another conservative jurist.
On his call with reporters Tuesday, Toomey said Trump has "had a couple of stumbles" but praised the president's direction on tax reform -- an aim Toomey has long championed and might see enacted under the new administration.
"I'm cautiously optimistic that we'll have a very pro-growth tax reform," Toomey said. "There will be more jobs, and they will pay good wages."
Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.) was scheduled to meet with Gorsuch later Tuesday, and Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) is set to sit with the nominee Thursday.