Trump: ‘Greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history’

US president denies he asked former FBI director to drop Flynn investigation

 US president Donald Trump strongly defended his decision to fire FBI director James Comey, saying “Director Comey was very unpopular with most people”.  Photograph: Yuri Gripas/Reuters

US president Donald Trump strongly defended his decision to fire FBI director James Comey, saying “Director Comey was very unpopular with most people”. Photograph: Yuri Gripas/Reuters

 

US president Donald Trump has denied he asked former FBI director James Comey to halt an investigation into former national security adviser Mike Flynn, as he dismissed the appointment of a Special Counsel to oversee the investigation as a “witch-hunt.”

Asked at a press conference in the White House if he had asked Mr Comey to “back off” on an investigation into Flynn, as reported by the New York Times and other media outlets earlier this week, Mr Trump replied: “No, no. Next question.”

 Mr Trump also strongly defended his decision to fire FBI director James Comey.

“Director Comey was very unpopular with most people,” he said. “I actually thought that when I made that decision . . . that it would be a bipartisan decision, because you look at all the people on the Democratic side that were saying very bad things about Director Comey.”

In particular, Mr Trump referenced Mr Comey’s “poor performance” at a Senate committee hearing the previous week, noting that the FBI had been forced to adjust the record.

 “I cherish the FBI. It’s special. The FBI has not had that special reputation with what happened in the campaign, what happened with respect to the Clinton campaign, and directly and indirectly to the more successful Trump campaign.”

Comey’s successor

He said he would announce Mr Comey’s successor “very soon.”

“We’re going to have a director that’s going to be outstanding. I think the people in the FBI will be very, very thrilled. We look forward to getting this whole situation behind us.”

Earlier, Mr Trump had taken to twitter to vent his frustration at the appointment of former FBI director Robert Mueller to oversee an investigation into Russia. “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history” he tweeted. In a separate tweet he also referenced unspecified “illegal acts” that took place during his predecessor’s presidency and during Hillary Clinton’s election campaign.

“With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama administration, there was never a special counsel appointed” he said, having misspelled counsel in a previous tweet which was quickly deleted.

During his late afternoon press conference in the White House he took a slightly more measured approach. “I respect the move [to appoint a special counsel] but the entire thing has been a witch-hunt.”

 “There is no collusion between certainly myself and the campaign and Russia,” he said, adding: “I think we have a very divided country because of that . . . We want to bring this great country of ours together.”

Russia investigation

Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein surprised the White House by announcing the appointment of a Special Counsel to oversee the Russia investigation late on Wednesday.

Yesterday, shortly before Mr Trump’s press conference at the White House, Mr Rosenstein briefed the entire US senate on Capitol Hill, a previously-scheduled engagement.

According to senators who were present at the closed-door meeting, Mr Rosenstein confirmed that he had known that former FBI chief James Comey was about to be fired before he wrote a memo setting out the rationale for his dismissal on May 9th.

Senators who attended the closed-door meeting said Mr Rosenstein said he knew on Monday, May 8th, that Mr Trump was planning to fire Mr Comey before he wrote the memo that was initially used by the White House to justify the decision.

The three-page memo specifically referenced Mr Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email controversy, though days later Mr Trump suggested in a TV interview that his decision was also influenced by “this Russian thing.” Mr Rosenstein is understood to have stood by his memo which was strongly critical of Mr Comey.

Mr Rosenstein has found himself at the centre of the controversy over the White House’s handling of the Russian investigation.  His nomination for the post was overwhelmingly backed by senators, by a 94-6 majority, last month.

As the Department of Justice’s second-highest ranking official, he assumed authority for all investigations pertaining to Russia after attorney general Jeff Sessions was forced to recuse himself from the investigations following revelations that he did not disclose conversations with the Russian ambassador in his own senate confirmation hearing.

 Mr Trump again referenced Mr Rosenstein’s memo at his White House press conference yesterday.