Washington  -  US President Donald Trump says his predecessor Barack Obama is “behind” the growing intelligence leaks and nationwide protests against his administration. 

“I think President Obama’s behind it, because his people are certainly behind it,” Trump told Fox News’s “Fox & Friends” morning show. 

“And some of the leaks possibly come from that group. You know, some of the leaks, which are really very serious leaks, because they’re very bad in terms of national security, but I also understand that’s politics. And in terms of him being behind things, that’s politics, and it will probably continue.”  

A report emerged over the weekend that White House press secretary Sean Spicer checked staff members’ phones in an attempt to crack down on leaks. 

CNN reported Monday that Trump had signed off on the leak investigation. During the interview broadcast Tuesday, Trump said he was would have instead gone one-on-one with staffers, but supported Spicer’s method. “I would’ve handled it differently than Sean, but Sean handles it his way and I’m OK with it,” Trump said of the phone checks. 

Trump earlier this month blamed holdovers from the Obama administration for leaking details of his phone calls with leaders from Mexico and Australia. 

“It’s a disgrace that they leaked because it’s very much against our country,” he told Fox News.  

Last week, Fox News ran a segment on its show Special Report that said the non-profit group Organizing for Action was planning the protests. Organizing for Action is an advocacy group created after Obama’s re-election to promote his presidential agenda. Obama’s 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina and former White House aide Jon Carson are among the group’s leaders. After the segment aired Trump sent a tweet that said the “so-called angry crowds” were planned by “liberal activists.” 

Meanwhile, President Trump’s senior adviser Kellyanne Conway has come under fire after a picture of her casually kneeling on a couch in the Oval Office was widely shared on social media. 

In an image captured by an AFP photographer, Conway appears on the couch with her shoes on as Trump poses for a photo with leaders of historically black colleges and universities. 

Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens was among those taking aim at Conway, suggesting that aides under previous administrations would have elicited even greater outcry. “If Rice or Jarrett had sat like this in Oval Office, conservatives would have screamed themselves hoarse for weeks. Now we own trashy,” he wrote, referring to previous presidential aides. 

Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama repeatedly took flak for photos in which he appeared to be relaxing. Critics also chastised Obama for unbuttoning the previous Oval Office dress code that called for a suit jacket and a tie. The image of Conway trended widely on social media, with several Twitter users berating her for what they described as a lack of respect in the Oval Office.  

This is not the first time Conway has found herself at the centre of a storm. 

She recently came under fire for plugging the fashion brand of the president’s daughter. The head of the US Office of Government Ethics urged the White House to investigate Conway after the incident, saying she should face disciplinary action. 

She also famously coined the term “alternative facts” and referred to a “Bowling Green massacre” - which never happened - during an interview.  

Conway later tweeted that she meant to say “Bowling Green terrorists” - referring to two Iraqi men who were indicted in 2011 for trying to send money and weapons to Al-Qaeda, and using improvised explosive devices against US soldiers in Iraq.  

Meanwhile, top Democrats warned Republicans Monday not to stymie investigations into contacts between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia, as the White House sought to quell a media storm over the allegations. 

The warnings came after Trump’s staff sought to enlist the FBI, reportedly the CIA and two Republicans who head committees leading the Russia investigations, to knock down media reports on the alleged links. 

The Democrats said that effort threatened to politically taint probes by both the security agencies and congressional committees into Russian interference in last year’s presidential election and alleged communications between Trump team officials and Russian intelligence. 

“This is not the way to conduct a fair, impartial investigation that goes where the facts lead,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, leader of the Democrats in the Senate. “It certainly gives the appearance if not the reality of lack of impartiality.” 

Senator Mark Warner, the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said its investigation into the Russia issue needs to remain bipartisan. 

“It shouldn’t have political interference; it can’t go where the White House wants it to go,” he told CNN. “By trying to bring in others to interfere with investigations, then they are going to color any results that come out.” 

The Trump administration is battling accusations that onetime campaign chair Paul Manafort and others had communications with Russian officials before the election at the same time that Moscow allegedly conducted a campaign of hacking and information releases aimed at harming Trump’s rival in the election, Hillary Clinton. 

The New York Times reported, citing intelligence sources, that the communications were with Russian intelligence officials. 

The White House admitted last week asking the Federal Bureau of Investigation to help it combat what it labeled the “false” New York Times report, by making information from its own investigation public. 

“This started with the FBI bringing it to us, bringing it to our attention, saying the story in the Times was not accurate,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday.  

“All we said is: ‘That’s great, could you tell other reporters the same thing you are telling us?’” 

After the FBI declined to take a public stance, the White House sought the help of Republican Senator Richard Burr, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Devin Nunes, Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee that is also conducting a probe, to shoot down the report. 

“All we sought to do was get an accurate report out,” said Spicer, fending off comments that his actions were inappropriate. 

“So, you know, respectfully, I think it’s interesting that I’m being asked what’s appropriate when what we are doing is actually urging reporters to engage with subject matter experts who can corroborate whether or not something is accurate or not.” 

But Democrats reacted sharply Monday as Nunes, before his committee held any hearings on the alleged Russia contacts, said he did not see any evidence to investigate. 

“Here at the committee, we still don’t have any evidence of them talking to Russians,” Nunes told journalists. 

“And what I’ve been told by many folks is that there is nothing there.” 

Nunes was quickly berated by his Democratic vice-chair Adam Schiff, who said the committee has not even received any evidence or testimony, so that it was impossible to make such a determination. 

“We haven’t obtained any of the evidence yet. So it’s premature for us to be saying that we have reached any conclusion about the issue of collusion,” he said. 

“You don’t begin by stating what you believe to be the conclusion.” 

Some Democrats have called for a bipartisan committee or an independent prosecutor to be named to probe the Russia issue. 

On Friday, Republican Congressman Darrell Issa became the first member of his party to endorse the idea of an independent investigation, possibly under a special prosecutor.