Trump says that Russia probe ‘divides the country’
President Donald Trump said he respects the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russian meddling in the U.S. election but stood by his claim that it is a witch hunt targeting him.
“I respect the move but the entire thing has been a witch hunt,” Trump said Thursday at a White House news conference. “I think it divides the country.”
“Believe me, there is no collusion” between his presidential campaign and Russia, he added.
Earlier, Trump had tweeted, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” There was never a special counsel appointed to investigate what he called “all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration,” he said.
At the press conference, Trump also denied trying to quash an FBI investigation of his former national security adviser.
“No, no — next question,” Trump said when asked whether he pressured then-FBI Director James Comey in February to drop an investigation into former White House adviser Michael Flynn’s dealings with Russia and Turkey.
While Trump questioned the legitimacy of the investigation, it has thrown the administration off track and consumed its political capital. Many lawmakers from both parties welcomed the appointment of Mueller by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as a way to restore confidence in government institutions and bring order to the probe.
Trump said Thursday he thought firing Comey would be a popular decision because he’d been criticized by Democrats and Republicans alike for his handling of an investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. He said Comey turned in a “poor performance” in his most recent testimony to Congress and that Rosenstein had written a “very strong letter” outlining Comey’s shortcomings.
Trump said he planed to announce his choice for a new FBI director “soon.”
While Mueller takes over the Justice Department investigation, probes in Congress were proceeding as well.
Republican Richard Burr of North Carolina, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat, said the panel would continue its own investigation and “engage with Director Mueller” on any potential conflicts.
The House Intelligence Committee requested documents from the Justice Department and FBI about the bureau’s investigation and any records related to Comey’s dismissal. Comey wrote detailed memos of his conversations with Trump, including one in which the president allegedly asked him to drop a probe of Flynn.
Flynn was forced to resign in February after it was disclosed that he misled Vice-president Mike Pence about the nature of his conversations with Russia’s U.S. ambassador.
U.S. President Donald Trump calls the probe into Russian meddling in the U.S. election ‘a witch hunt’.