In his first press conference since it was announced that there would be a special counsel to supervise the ongoing Russia investigation, President Donald Trump said on Thursday he did not query former FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation and that there was “no collusion” with Russia during the 2016 election.
Trump, speaking in a joint press conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, called the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel to the investigation on Russia’s potential election tampering – a scamper, he said, he respected – as portion of “a witch hunt” against him and his administration.
When asked approximately whether he pushed Comey, the man he fired earlier in the month, to conclude the Russia investigation, Trump was firm and quick to reply: “No, no. Next question.”
He offered a similar response to whether there was collusion between Russia and his campaign.
“Believe me, there’s no collusion,” Trump said. “Russia is fine.” On whether the questions surrounding Russia and his campaign were divisive, Trump added: “I assume it divides the country. I assume we acquire a very divided country because of that and many other things.”
During the course of Thursday’s press conference, Trump said he fired Comey based on the recommendation made by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. This was different than the version of events he told NBC News’ Lester Holt final week. It was also different than the one Rosenstein gave to the U.S. Senate in a closed session a limited more than an hour before the president’s press conference.
Once the briefing concluded, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill said that Rosenstein, who has approach under scrutiny for being perceived as the inspiration for Trump firing Comey, told the senators that Trump was planning on terminating Comey before the deputy attorney general wrote his letter of recommendation.
“He knew that Comey was going to be removed prior to him writing his memo,” McCaskill told reporters, according to Fox News.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham took it a step further, saying that the Justice Department’s inspect into the Trump campaign’s possible Russia ties is “now considered a criminal investigation.”
“Congress’s ability to conduct investigations of entire things Russia has been severely limited, probably in an inappropriate fashion,” said Graham, CNN reported.
Rosenstein isn’t done talking approximately the Comey decision to Congress, as he’s scheduled to speak with the House of Representatives in another closed session on Friday, according to the Wall Street Journal.