President Donald Trump on Thursday denied asking former FBI Director James Comey to scuttle an investigation, and said the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s meddling in last year’s presidential election is detrimental to the U.S. state of affairs.
“I believe it hurts our country terribly because it shows we’re a divided, mixed-up, not-unified country,” Trump said in his first public remarks about the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to probe the Russian controversy. “And we have very important things to be doing right now, whether it’s trade deals, whether it’s military, whether it’s stopping nuclear ― all of the things that we discussed today. And I think this shows a very divided country.
“It also happens to be a pure excuse for the Democrats having lost an election that they should have easily won because of the Electoral College being slanted so much in their way. That’s all this is,” he added.
Trump spoke at a meeting with top news anchors at the White House. Later, during a news conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, he again attacked the investigation.
“I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt,” Trump said, referring to the Russia probe. He denied his campaign conspired with Russia to influence the election, and called the matter “fine.”
“There is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign—but I can only speak for myself,” he said.
Trump said the rising talk of impeachment on Capitol Hill “totally ridiculous,” and flatly denied that he asked Comey to end the agency’s probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Trump, who fired Comey last week, reportedly spoke to the then-FBI director in February about Flynn.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), emerging on Capitol Hill from a closed-door briefing with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller on Wednesday, cast the investigation of Flynn and possible Trump campaign ties to Russia as far more serious.
“It’s now considered a criminal investigation,” Graham told reporters.
Comey has been invited to testify before Congress next week, but his appearance at an open hearing might be in jeopardy due to the appointment of a special counsel, Graham said.
Later on Thursday, the White House denied a New York Times report that Trump’s transition team was aware of an investigation into Flynn’s lobbying on behalf of Turkey before Flynn was hired as Trump’s national security adviser.
“The New York Times story is flat wrong,” a White House spokesman told NBC. “Neither Michael Flynn nor his attorneys told Transition Counsel that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign.”
This article has been updated to include later comments by Trump and the White House.