In an interview with The New York Times published Wednesday, President Donald Trump made a series of shocking statements about his administration’s ties to Russia, ongoing investigations into collusion with a foreign government and his waning happiness with senior officials in the White House. Here are some of the most eyebrow-raising passages from the exclusive sit-down:
Trump would not have appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions if he’d known he would recuse himself from the Russia probe.
“Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself. I then have ― which, frankly, I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I can’t, you know, I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president.”
Sessions recused himself from any future investigations into Russian influence on the 2016 presidential campaign after The Washington Post reported he had met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice last year and failed to disclose the meetings. He had previously told the Senate Judiciary Committee under oath he had not had any “communications with the Russians” during the presidential campaign, which he participated in as a Trump surrogate.
Trump said the office of special counsel Robert Mueller is full of conflicts of interest.
“He was up here and he wanted the job,” Mr. Trump said. After he was named special counsel, “I said, ‘What the hell is this all about?’ Talk about conflicts. But he was interviewing for the job. There were many other conflicts that I haven’t said, but I will at some point.”
When Mueller was chosen to lead the Justice Department’s probe into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, he garnered widespread praise from both sides of the aisle and was championed as an investigator with “sterling credentials.” However, Trump implies that Mueller may have had a conflict of interest because he was on a shortlist to replace fired FBI Director James Comey. When he was named special counsel, Trump’s surrogates quickly began work to undercut Mueller’s integrity, saying they questioned his impartiality due to his longtime friendship with Comey. News outlets the president is known to follow, including Fox News and InfoWars, have continued to cast doubt on the investigation, labeling it with a favorite phrase of Trump’s: “a witch hunt.”
The president claimed his second, previously undisclosed meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin lasted 15 minutes and “adoption” came up.
“The meal was going, and toward dessert I went down just to say hello to Melania, and while I was there I said hello to Putin. Really, pleasantries more than anything else. It was not a long conversation, but it was, you know, could be 15 minutes. Just talked about ― things. Actually, it was very interesting, we talked about adoption.”
The White House acknowledged Tuesday that Trump held a second, private conversation with Putin at the G-20 summit in Germany earlier this month. According to Ian Bremmer, the president of a consulting firm called the Eurasia Group, the talk lasted for about an hour and the only other person in on the conversation was a Kremlin interpreter. Bremmer told the Times that guests at the dinner where the interaction occurred were “confused” and “flummoxed” by it.
“Never in my life as a political scientist have I seen two countries ― major countries ― with a constellation of national interests that are as dissonant while the two leaders seem to be doing everything possible to make nice and be close to each other,” Bremmer told Bloomberg’s Charlie Rose.
The White House disputed the characterization of the talk as a “meeting” and said it lasted a short while.
“It was pleasantries and small talk,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.
Trump accused Comey, whom he abruptly fired in May, of using an unverified dossier of compromising material to keep his job.
“In my opinion, he shared it so that I would think he had it out there,” Mr. Trump said. As leverage? “Yeah, I think so,” Mr. Trump said. “In retrospect.”
The president dismissed the assertions in the dossier: “When he brought it to me, I said this is really, made-up junk. I didn’t think about any of it. I just thought about, man, this is such a phony deal.”
According to his testimony last month to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey first informed Trump about the existence of the dossier ― compiled by a former British spy, Christopher Steele ― in January after U.S. intelligence agents decided he should be told before anything was published by the media. Comey said the president again denied anything alleged in the document was accurate during a private dinner later that month and urged the then-director to investigate the material.
“I replied that he should give that careful thought because it might create a narrative that we were investigating him personally, which we weren’t, and because it was very difficult to prove a negative,” Comey said in his prepared remarks. “He said he would think about it and asked me to think about it.”
The president once more denied the allegations in a call in late March, saying he “had not been involved with hookers in Russia,” Comey recalled.
Mueller would cross a “red line” if he looked into the Trump family’s finances beyond Russia.
“If Mueller was looking at your finances and your family finances, unrelated to Russia — is that a red line?”
“I would say yeah. I would say yes.”
As the Times reports, Trump did not say if he would consider firing Mueller, noting, “I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen.” Only the deputy attorney general who appointed the special counsel can directly fire him (that would be Rod Rosenstein, who is in charge of such decisions as Sessions has recused himself). However, Trump could fire Rosenstein and, as Politico reports, “continue down the line until a DOJ official acquiesced.”
Trump complained about Rosenstein, describing him as a man Sessions “hardly knew” and alluding that he was annoyed the deputy attorney general was “from Baltimore.”
“I said, ‘Who’s your deputy?’ So his deputy he hardly knew, and that’s Rosenstein, Rod Rosenstein, who is from Baltimore. There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any. So, he’s from Baltimore.”
He has been described as the “poster child for the professional, competent, ethical and fair-minded prosecutor,” and he told The Baltimore Sun in April he was ready to take up the No. 2 job at the Justice Department “without regard to partisan political consideration.”
Rosenstein made headlines earlier this year after a memo he drafted about Comey was cited by the president as his reasoning for firing the FBI director. In the document, Rosenstein criticized Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, but the deputy attorney general reportedly threatened to quit after he was painted by the White House as the driving force behind the dismissal of Comey.
His nomination earned bipartisan support, and the Senate voted 94-6 to confirm him.