Trump: No plan to f ire Mueller

He also cools rhetoric about Ses­sions, and again says there was no Rus­sia col­lu­sion.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Joseph Tan­fani joseph.tan­fani @la­times.com Twit­ter: @jtan­fani

The pres­i­dent again de­nies that his cam­paign col­luded with Rus­sian of­fi­cials in 2016.

WASH­ING­TON —Pres­i­dent Trump said he had no in­ten­tion of fir­ing Robert S. Mueller III, the special coun­sel in­ves­ti­gat­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ties to Rus­sia, an in­quiry that he has re­peat­edly at­tacked as a “witch hunt.”

Trump, speaking to re­porters at his Bed­min­ster, N.J., golf re­sort af­ter a meet­ing with ad­vi­sors Thurs­day, once again in­sisted that there had been no col­lu­sion be­tween his cam­paign and Rus­sian lead­ers, but cooled his rhetoric at­tack­ing Mueller and Atty. Gen. Jeff Ses­sions.

“I haven’t given it any thought,” he said, when asked whether he might fire Mueller, a sub­ject that friends and ad­vi­sors have said he re­peat­edly raised ear­lier this summer.

“You say, ‘Oh, I’m go­ing to dis­miss him.’ No, I’m not dis­miss­ing any­body. I mean, I want them to get on with the task.”

As for Ses­sions, Trump gave a tepid en­dorse­ment af­ter weeks of pub­licly dress­ing down the at­tor­ney gen­eral.

“It is what it is. It’s fine,” Trump said of their re­la­tion­ship. “He’s work­ing hard on the bor­der.”

The re­marks on Thurs­day rep­re­sented an­other shift for Trump, who last month seemed on the brink of a his­toric con­fronta­tion with Congress and his own Jus­tice Depart­ment over the Rus­sia in­quiry.

Trump re­peat­edly ex­co­ri­ated Ses­sions for his de­ci­sion to step aside from su­per­vis­ing the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, mak­ing it clear that he blamed the at­tor­ney gen­eral for the fact that he was fac­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion by Mueller and his team. He called Ses­sions “very weak” on pros­e­cut­ing leak­ers and in pur­su­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion against his former ri­val, Hil­lary Clin­ton.

The bar­rage of pub­lic crit­i­cism was widely seen as an ef­fort by Trump to pres­sure Ses­sions to re­sign, and it prompted warn­ings from con­ser­va­tives and from the Se­nate not to fire Ses­sions or Mueller.

Sen. Charles E. Grass­ley (R-Iowa), the chair­man of the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, warned at one point that Trump would not get an­other at­tor­ney gen­eral con­firmed this year.

Trump on Thurs­day re­peated that Mueller would find no ev­i­dence that any­one con­nected to his cam­paign co­op­er­ated with a Rus­sian scheme to inf lu­ence the elec­tion.

“They’re in­ves­ti­gat­ing some­thing that never hap­pened. There was no col­lu­sion be­tween us and Rus­sia,” he said. “We have an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of some­thing that never took place, and all I say is work with them.”

As he has sev­eral times be­fore, how­ever, Trump made clear that he con­tin­ues to see the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion as a chal­lenge to the le­git­i­macy of his elec­tion.

“There’s no — there is no col­lu­sion. You know why? Be­cause I don’t speak to Rus­sians. Look, I won be­cause I sup­pose I was a much bet­ter can­di­date than her,” he said, re­fer­ring to Clin­ton. “I won be­cause I went to Wis­con­sin. I went to Michi­gan. I won Penn­syl­va­nia. I fought a smart battle. That’s why I won. I didn’t win be­cause of Rus­sia.”

Alarmed about Rus­sia’s ef­forts to in­ter­fere in the 2016 elec­tion, Pres­i­dent Obama in De­cem­ber im­posed new sanc­tions on Rus­sia. This month, Congress over­whelm­ingly passed a law to tie Trump’s hands and pre­vent him from weak­en­ing those sanc­tions. In re­sponse, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin or­dered the U.S. to re­duce its diplo­matic staff in Rus­sia by hun­dreds, pri­mar­ily Rus­sian con­tract em­ploy­ees.

Shortly af­ter Putin’s an­nounce­ment, the State Depart­ment called the de­ci­sion “a re­gret­table and un­called-for act.”

Trump took more than a week and a half to of­fer his own re­sponse. When he did, it was to make light of the mat­ter and say he wasn’t con­cerned.

“I want to thank him be­cause we’re try­ing to cut down our pay­roll,” he said. “We’re go­ing to save a lot of money.”

“There’s no real rea­son for them to go back,” Trump said, re­fer­ring to the diplo­mats. “I greatly ap­pre­ci­ate the fact that we’ve been able to cut our pay­roll of the United States.”

Trump also com­mented on the FBI’s search last month of the Vir­ginia home of Paul Manafort, his one­time cam­paign man­ager.

“I thought it was a very, very strong sig­nal, or what­ever,” Trump said when asked about the raid, adding that he had not spo­ken to the at­tor­ney gen­eral or FBI about it.

He also said he had not spo­ken to Manafort in “a long time.”

“To do that early in the morn­ing, whether or not it was ap­pro­pri­ate, you’d have to ask them,” Trump said, re­fer­ring to the search.

Trump de­scribed Manafort as “a very de­cent man,” but added a pointed com­ment about Manafort’s long record of busi­ness deal­ings with in­ter­na­tional clients, some of them aligned with the Krem­lin:

“He’s like a lot of other peo­ple. Prob­a­bly makes con­sul­tant fees from all over the place, who knows.”

Trump also seemed to ac­knowl­edge that some of his as­so­ciates could be in le­gal trou­ble. Both Manafort and Michael Flynn, his former na­tional se­cu­rity di­rec­tor, be­lat­edly reg­is­tered as for­eign agents af­ter in­for­ma­tion sur­faced that they had rep­re­sented for­eign in­ter­ests. And his son-in-law, Jared Kush­ner, has amended his dis­clo­sure fil­ings about con­tacts with for­eign of­fi­cials.

“Did they do some­thing wrong be­cause they didn’t file the right doc­u­ment or what­ever?” Trump said, not nam­ing any spe­cific in­di­vid­u­als. “Per­haps. You’ll have to look at them. But I guar­an­tee you this, prob­a­bly a lot of peo­ple in Wash­ing­ton did the same thing.”

Trump also dis­tin­guished be­tween na­tional se­cu­rity leaks and those com­ing from in­side his frac­tious White House.

Leaks of clas­si­fied ma­te­rial are a se­ri­ous prob­lem, he said. “And then you have the leaks where peo­ple want to love me and they’re all fight­ing for love,” he said. “They’re not very im­por­tant. But — ac­tu­ally, I’m some­what hon­ored by them.”

J. Scott Applewhite As­so­ci­ated Press

SPECIAL COUN­SEL Robert S. Mueller III in Wash­ing­ton. “I haven’t given it any thought,” Pres­i­dent Trump said, when asked whether he might fire Mueller.

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