WASHINGTON — President Trump told reporters this afternoon that he does “respect” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s decision to appoint former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel overseeing the Russia campaign investigation, “but the entire thing has been a witch hunt.”
That echoed Trump’s morning tweet: “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”
Speaking alongside Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in the East Room of the White House, Trump added, “And there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign. But I can always speak for myself and the Russians — zero. I think it divides the country. I think we have a very divided country because of that and many other things.”
Trump touted decreased illegal crossings at the southern border and his upcoming overseas trip, which begins Friday in Saudi Arabia.
“That’s what I want to be focused on,” he said. “Because believe me, there’s no collusion. Russia is fine. But whether it’s Russia or anybody else, my total priority, believe me, is the United States of America. So thank you very much.”
On Tuesday, the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN reported that a memo from former FBI Director James Comey after a February meeting with Trump quoted the president as asking the FBI chief, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Congressional committees have since asked for all of the Comey memos and any recordings of meetings with Trump.
Asked today if he “in any way, shape, or form” urged Comey “to close or to back down the investigation” into Flynn, Trump replied, “No. No. Next question.”
Peter Baker of the NYT then asked, “As you look back over the past six months or year, have you had any recollection where you’ve wondered if anything you have done has been something that might be worthy of criminal charges in these investigations or impeachment as some on the left are implying?”
“I think it’s totally ridiculous. Everybody thinks so,” Trump replied. “…Director Comey was very unpopular with most people. I actually thought when I made that decision — and I also got a very, very strong recommendation, as you know, from the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. But when I made that decision, I actually thought that it would be a bipartisan decision. Because you look at all of the people on the Democratic side, not only the Republican side, that were saying such terrible things about Director Comey.”
Trump said Comey had a “very poor performance” at the May 3 hearing, in which the former FBI director told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he felt “mildly nauseous” at any thought that his actions in the Clinton email investigation could have handed the election to Trump, but he’d make the same decision again.
“That was a poor, poor performance. So poor in fact that, I believe — and you’d have to ask him, because I don’t like to speak for other people — but I believe that’s why the deputy attorney general went out and wrote his very, very strong letter,” Trump added.
“…We need a great director of the FBI. I cherish the FBI. It’s special. All over the world no matter where you go, the FBI is special. The FBI has not had that special reputation with what happened in the campaign, what happened with respect to the Clinton campaign and even, you could say, directly or indirectly, with respect to the much more successful Trump campaign.”
Former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is said to be the top contender to replace Comey; Trump confirmed in an Oval Office photo session with Santos that Lieberman is a finalist for the position. Trump reportedly wanted Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) to fill the role, but Cornyn said this week that he wanted to stay in the Senate.
Trump vowed today his pick is “going to be outstanding” and predicted “the people in the FBI will be very, very, very, very thrilled.”
Santos was asked at the press conference what he thought of Trump’s “America first” policy and whether he had any advice for the U.S. president given his own tough times with the media in Colombia.
“I don’t think I’m in a position to give any advice to President Trump,” Santos replied. “He can take care of himself.”