Trump declares he could 'run' Mueller's Russia probe if he wanted

President's remarks will no doubt cause alarm in Congress over special counsel's independence

Chris Riotta
New York
Monday 20 August 2018 01:11 BST
Donald Trump has repeatedly hit out at the Mueller investigation
Donald Trump has repeatedly hit out at the Mueller investigation (Reuters)

Donald Trump has suggested that he could "run" Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling, despite the investigation looking into possible collusion with between Moscow and Trump campaign officials.

The president suggested that he had stayed out of the investigation, but that he does not have to. "I could run it if I want," Mr Trump said, adding that he is "totally allowed" to intervene in the probe, but has chosen to stay out.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the probe early last year over his contacts with Russian officials, leading Deputy Attorney general Rod Rosenstein to eventually appoint Mr Mueller after Mr Trump fired the then-head of the FBI, James Comey, who was leading the probe. Special counsel's are generally appointed when an investigation would mean the potential for conflict of interest for the executive branch of government and Mr Mueller is said to be looking into the possibility that Mr Comey's firing could be obstruction of justice.

A number of bills have been floated by members of Congress to codify in law the protection for Mr Mueller, amid increasingly vociferous attacks from Mr Trump, who has repeatedly denied collusion and has called the probe a "witch hunt". Russia has denied interfering in the 2016 US election.

Calls for Congress to step in will no doubt grow larger in the wake of Mr Trump's latest comments, in an interview with Reuters, with them coming hours after another Twitter rant from the president about the investigation.

“Disgraced and discredited Bob Mueller and his whole group of Angry Democrat Thugs spent over 30 hours with the White House Councel [sic], only with my approval, for purposes of transparency,” he wrote, acknowledging recent reports that White House lawyer Don McGahn has cooperated with investigators across a series of interviews.

Rudy Giuliani tells Chuck Todd: 'Truth isn't truth' when it comes to the Mueller investigation

Mr Trump went as far as claiming Mr Mueller and his team “a national disgrace” who are looking to impact November's crucial midterm elections - during which Republicans are seeking to defend majorities in both the House and the Senate of Congress.

“They are enjoying ruining people’s lives and REFUSE to look at the real corruption on the Democrat side – the lies, the firings, the deleted Emails and soooo much more!” Mr Trump wrote. “Mueller’s Angry Dems are looking to impact the election. They are a National Disgrace!”

“Where’s the Collusion?” the president wrote in a tweet an hour after attacking Mr Mueller. “They made up a phony crime called Collusion, and when there was no Collusion they say there was Obstruction (of a phony crime that never existed). If you FIGHT BACK or say anything bad about the Rigged Witch Hunt, they scream Obstruction!”

Over the weekend, Mr Trump insisted his general counsel isn’t a “RAT” and accused Mr Mueller’s team of “looking for trouble”. He contrasted McGahn with John Dean, the White House counsel for Nixon during the Watergate scandal. Mr Dean ultimately cooperated with prosecutors and helped bring down the Nixon presidency in 1974, though he served a prison term for obstruction of justice.

“The failing @nytimes wrote a Fake piece today implying that because White House Councel Don McGahn was giving hours of testimony to the Special Councel [sic], he must be a John Dean type ‘RAT,’” Mr Trump wrote on Sunday.

“But I allowed him and all others to testify – I didn’t have to. I have nothing to hide......”, the president wrote.

Mr Trump's legal team dealing with the probe, led by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have been negotiating with Mr Mueller's team for a sit down interview with the president.

Mr Giuliani has advised Mr Trump against meeting with Mr Mueller over the threat that questions may lead to him being trapped into a lie. Appearing on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday, Mr Giuliani told Chuck Todd “I’m not going to be rushed into having him testify so he gets trapped into perjury.”

During that interview Mr Giuliani also made the bizarre claim that “truth isn’t truth” when it comes to the Mueller probe.

“When you tell me that, you know, he should testify because he’s going to tell the truth and he shouldn’t worry, well that’s so silly because it’s somebody’s version of the truth. Not the truth,” Mr Giuliani said. When told by Mr Todd that “truth is truth”, Mr Giuliani added: “No, it isn’t truth... Truth isn’t truth.”

During his interview with Reuters, Mr Trump echoed the concerns of Mr Giuliani. The president expressed fears that investigators could compare his statements with that of others who have testified in the probe, such as former FBI director Mr Comey, and that any discrepancies could be used against him.

"Even if I am telling the truth, that makes me a liar," Mr Trump said. "That'€™s no good."

Despite his concerns, Mr Trump did not comment on whether he would ultimately agree to an interview with Mr Mueller. The president also declined to say whether he might strip Mr Mueller of his security clearance, as he did last week to former CIA Director John Brennan, who has repeatedly criticised Trump's handling of foreign policy and national security issues.

The Russia probe has clearly been on Mr Trump's mind in recent days, although Mr Giuliani said that Mr Trump did not raise the issue of executive privilege or attorney-client privilege about interviews such as those undertaken by Mr McGahn because his team believed – he says now, wrongly – that fully participating would be the fastest way to bring the investigation to a close.

John Brennan mulls legal action after security clearance revoked

“The president encouraged him to testify, is happy that he did, is quite secure that there is nothing in the testimony that will hurt the president,” Mr Giuliani said of Mr McGahn during his appearance on NBC.

Just outside Washington, there is also the matter of the trial Mr Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort in Alexandria, Virginia. The jury in the bank and tax fraud trial ended its third day of deliberations without a verdict on Monday and will reconvene on Tuesday morning.

The case is the first to go to trial stemming from Mr Mueller's investigation into Russia investigation, although the charges largely predate Mr Manafort's five months working on Donald Trump's successful campaign and they do not relate to collusion with Moscow.

Mr Manafort faces five counts of filing false tax returns, four counts of failing to disclose offshore bank accounts, and nine counts of bank fraud over money gained from political consulting in Ukraine. If convicted on all the charges, he could face decades in prison. Mr Manafort denies all the charges against him.

A conviction would undermine efforts by Mr Trump and a minority of Republican legislators to paint Mr Mueller's Russia inquiry as a political witch hunt, while an acquittal would be a setback for the special counsel.

Reuters contributed to this report

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