President Donald Trump said Thursday that though he thinks Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s election interference makes “the country look very bad,” but he believes the outcome will be “fair.”
Trump held forth on Mueller’s investigation in a meandering 30-minute interview with The New York Times at his Mar-A-Lago resort in West Palm Beach, where he’s spending the holidays. No White House aides were present for the on-the-record conversation.
The President told the newspaper 16 times that the probe has discovered “no collusion” by his campaign, but added that he thinks Mueller is “going to be fair” to him.
Those comments are in line with what Trump has said previously, but run counter to a weeks-long effort by his supporters in Congress and in the conservative media to paint the investigation as hopelessly tainted by partisan bias. Those supporters have tried to pivot the national conversation towards Democrats’ dealings with Russia, instead.
Trump has enthusiastically assisted that effort, telling the Times that there was “tremendous collusion on behalf of the Russians and the Democrats,” particularly those affiliated with Hillary Clinton’s campaign. He argued that special counsel investigators should focus their attention on past work that the lobbying firm of Tony Podesta, brother of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, did for a client referred by his own former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Trump called Manafort, who was indicted on a slew of financial crimes charges, a “very nice man” and “an honorable person,” repeating that he only managed the campaign for a short period of time. Manafort worked for Trump from March to August 2016.
Trump did not appear bothered by his associates’ indictments and plea agreements, or the fact that Mueller’s probe is continuing past the Christmas deadline his lawyers provided to reporters because, he said, there is nothing incriminating to find.
The Russia allegations were invented by Democrats “as a hoax, as a ruse, as an excuse for losing an election,” he told the Times.
Trump also again took shots at his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, calling it a “terrible thing” and “certainly unnecessary.”
He praised the “loyalty” of Barack Obama’s first Attorney General, Eric Holder, and said he has “great respect” for what Holder did to “totally protect” the President.
Though Trump denied any interest in reopening a Justice Department investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server, he asserted that he has the “absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.”
Trump is reportedly under scrutiny by Mueller’s team for obstruction of justice. The investigation has to do with his abrupt firing of former FBI Director James Comey after Comey allegedly declined Trump’s request that he swear a loyalty oath and drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.