- Getty Images
- President Donald Trump said during an interview with The Wall Street Journal that he should get more credit for “having great insight” when he fired FBI director James Comey last May.
- “Everybody wanted Comey fired,” he said, adding that there was “no crime” and “no obstruction.”
- Though he’s repeatedly asserted he did nothing wrong, Trump did not agree to an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is overseeing the Russia probe.
During an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, President Donald Trump doubled down on his assertion that his campaign did not collude with Russia, that there was “no crime” and “no obstruction.”
Trump was referring to the obstruction-of-justice case the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is said to be building against Trump based on his decision to fire FBI director James Comey last May. Comey was overseeing the Russia probe at the time.
The White House initially said Comey was fired because of the way he handled the bureau’s investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to conduct government business. But Trump later said on national television that “this Russia thing” had been a factor in his decision. He also reportedly told two top Russian government officials, one day after dismissing Comey, that his firing had taken “great pressure” off of him.
At first, the White House said Trump’s decision was based entirely on the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had penned a memo about Comey, at Trump’s request, the day after meeting with Trump to discuss his performance. Though Rosenstein was critical of Comey in his memo, he did not recommend Comey be fired.
The FBI director’s ouster ignited an immediate firestorm in Washington, with both Democrats and Republicans raising questions about whether the president had fired Comey to stymie an investigation into his and his associates’ potential wrongdoings.
Rosenstein appointed Mueller special counsel days later.
“Of course there was no obstruction, there was no crime,” Trump told The Journal on Thursday. “They make up a crime, and the crime doesn’t exist, and then they say obstruction.”
He added: “Everybody wanted Comey fired. I should be given credit for having great insight.”
But he said afterward that Rosenstein “was in charge,” and that his decision was based on the deputy attorney general’s recommendation.
Trump’s comments appear to be at odds with what he said during an interview last May with NBC’s Lester Holt, which took place two days after Comey’s dismissal.
“What I did is – I was going to fire Comey, my decision,” Trump said at the time. “I was going to fire regardless of recommendation. He made a recommendation. He’s highly respected. Very good guy, very smart guy, the Democrats like him, the Republicans like him. He made a recommendation. But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.”
Trump stops short of agreeing to an interview with Mueller
The Russia probe has ramped up significantly in recent weeks.
So far, four individuals in Trump’s orbit have been charged as part of the investigation. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn and early foreign-policy adviser George Papadopoulos each pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to investigators about their contacts with Russians. Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort as well as former adviser and longtime Manafort associate Rick Gates pleaded not guilty to 12 counts, including money laundering, tax fraud, failing to register as foreign agents, and conspiracy against the US.
Multiple media outlets reported this week that Trump’s legal team is now in talks with Mueller about approaching a possible interview with Trump.
A person familiar with the matter told The New York Times on Monday that Mueller’s team was focused mainly on questions about Comey’s firing as well as Flynn.
The reports said Trump’s team was weighing several options in response, including submitting written responses, submitting an affidavit saying Trump did nothing wrong, or avoiding an interview all together.
Trump said last year that he would be “100%” willing to testify under oath about his conversations with Comey. But when a reporter asked him Wednesday whether he would consent to an interview with Mueller, Trump replied, “We’ll see what happens.”
“I mean, certainly, I’ll see what happens,” he said. “But when they have no collusion and nobody’s found any collusion at any level, it seems unlikely that you’d even have an interview.”
He also refused to commit to sitting down with the special counsel on Thursday, The Journal reported.
Trump said that while his lawyers first said they would “fight this,” in reference to the Russia probe, their outlook evolved after reviewing the documents Mueller had requested. “They said, ‘We should be open,'” Trump said of his legal team. “They said, ‘You never did anything wrong.'”