Monday 19 August 2019

Trump makes angry attack on Mueller over Russia probe claims

U-turn: US President Donald Trump speaks to reporters on the White House lawn. Photo: AFP/Getty
U-turn: US President Donald Trump speaks to reporters on the White House lawn. Photo: AFP/Getty

Deb Riechmann

US President Donald Trump has angrily attacked special counsel Robert Mueller's motives, after Mr Mueller bluntly rebuffed Mr Trump's repeated claims that the Russia investigation had cleared him of obstructing justice.

The US president also offered mixed messages on Russia's efforts to help him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign.

Early on Thursday, Mr Trump tweeted he had "nothing to do with Russia helping me get elected". That was the first time he seemed to acknowledge that Russia tried to help his campaign.

Then on the White House lawn, Mr Trump told reporters: "Russia did not help me get elected. You know who got me elected? You know who got me elected? I got me elected. Russia didn't help me at all."

Mr Mueller's report said Russia interfered in the election in hopes of getting Mr Trump elected, but his findings and intelligence officials have stopped short of saying the efforts contributed to Mr Trump's victory.

Attorney General William Barr, meanwhile, is defending his short summary of Mr Mueller's report, telling CBS yesterday he was "just trying to state the bottom line".

Critics have accused Mr Barr of spinning the report's findings to favour Mr Trump.

Mr Trump's 20-minute eruption on Thursday underscored that he remains deeply distressed over the probe that has shadowed his presidency for nearly two years, even after Mr Mueller announced his resignation and the closure of his office. Democrats are mulling the possibility of impeachment proceedings.

Mr Trump insisted that he's been tough on Russia and that Moscow would have preferred Ms Clinton as president.

But that's not what Russian President Vladimir Putin has said. When asked last year in Helsinki whether he wanted Mr Trump to become president, Mr Putin replied: "Yes, I did."

On Wednesday, Mr Mueller, in his first public remarks on the Russia investigation, pointedly rejected Mr Trump's claims - repeated almost daily - that the special counsel's investigation cleared him of criminal activity and was a "witch hunt".

Mr Mueller emphasised that he had not exonerated Mr Trump on the question of whether he obstructed justice, but said charging Mr Trump with any crime was "not an option" because of Justice Department rules.

"If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so," Mr Mueller declared.

Mr Barr, however, said Mr Mueller could have reached a decision on whether Mr Trump obstructed justice. Mr Barr said in an interview with 'CBS This Morning' that though Justice Department rules prevent the indictment of a sitting president, Mr Mueller could have decided whether Mr Trump had committed a crime.

Mr Trump repeated his baseless claims that Mr Mueller is "conflicted", contending that Mr Mueller, who served as FBI director under George W Bush, wanted his old job back, but that he had told him no. He said Mr Mueller, a Republican, was "a true never Trumper" and "didn't get a job that he wanted very badly".

Mr Mueller had been considered for the FBI director position shortly before being named as special counsel.

Irish Independent

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