President Trump delivered a full-throated denial on Thursday that he or members of his presidential campaign engaged in any collusion with the Russian government in order to influence the 2016 election.
Asked during a joint news conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos whether he agreed with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s decision to appoint former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special prosecutor to investigate possible ties with Moscow, Trump was resolute.
“I respect the move but the entire thing has been a witch hunt, and there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself, and the Russians, zero,” Trump said. “I think it divides the country. I think we have a very divided country because of that and many other things.”
Trump then directed his ire at former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by the president last week.
Repeating his assertion that Comey “was very unpopular with most people,” Trump said he was dismissed over inaccurate testimony delivered before Congress as well as his faulty decision making during the presidential campaign.
Pressed on whether he asked Comey to quash an FBI investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s foreign contacts, Trump grew testy.
“No, no. Next question,” Trump said, cutting off a reporter mid-question.
Trump’s own timeline and rationale for firing Comey has repeatedly been amended by his administration. Initially, the White House claimed that Trump was simply following the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein. Last week in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, he claimed he had been planning to fire Comey and called him a “grandstander.”
On Thursday, after a briefing with Rosenstein on Capitol Hill, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said that Rosenstein knew before making his recommendation to Trump that the president would fire Comey.
Trump promised he would announce his pick for FBI director “very soon,” and said he aimed to restore the reputation of the bureau.
“I cherish the FBI. It’s special,” Trump said.
But the lingering question hanging over the press conference was what the appointment of Mueller meant for his presidency.
To hear Trump tell it, he wasn’t worried.
“Believe me, there’s no collusion. Russia’s fine,” Trump said.
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