US President Donald Trump has avoided giving a direct answer when asked if he currently is or has ever worked for Russia.
A published report shows federal law enforcement officials were so concerned about Mr Trump’s behaviour after he fired James Comey from the FBI that they began investigating whether he had been working for the US adversary against American interests.
Mr Trump said it was the “most insulting” question he had ever been asked.
I have been FAR tougher on Russia than Obama, Bush or Clinton. Maybe tougher than any other President. At the same time, & as I have often said, getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. I fully expect that someday we will have good relations with Russia again!
The New York Times report cited unnamed former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.
Mr Trump responded to the report during an interview broadcast on the Fox News Channel after host Jeanine Pirro, who is also a personal friend of the president, asked whether he is currently or has ever worked for Russia.
“I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked,” Mr Trump said. “I think it’s the most insulting article I’ve ever had written, and if you read the article you’ll see that they found absolutely nothing.”
Mr Trump never answered Ms Pirro’s question directly, but went on to say that no president has taken a harder stance against Russia than he has.
“If you ask the folks in Russia, I’ve been tougher on Russia than anybody else, any other … probably any other president, period, but certainly the last three or four presidents.”
The New York Times reported that FBI agents and some top officials became suspicious of Mr Trump’s ties to Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign but did not open an investigation at that time because they were not sure how to approach such a sensitive and important probe, according to the unnamed officials.
But Mr Trump’s behaviour in the days around Mr Comey’s May 2017 firing as FBI director, specifically two instances in which he seemed to tie Mr Comey’s ousting to the Russia investigation, helped trigger the counter-intelligence part of the investigation, according to the newspaper.
In the inquiry, counter-intelligence investigators sought to evaluate whether Mr Trump was a potential threat to national security. They also sought to determine whether Mr Trump was deliberately working for Russia or had unintentionally been influenced by Moscow.
Wow, just learned in the Failing New York Times that the corrupt former leaders of the FBI, almost all fired or forced to leave the agency for some very bad reasons, opened up an investigation on me, for no reason & with no proof, after I fired Lyinâ James Comey, a total sleaze!
Mr Trump tweeted early on Saturday that the report showed that the FBI leadership “opened up an investigation on me, for no reason & with no proof” after he had fired Mr Comey.
Robert Mueller took over the investigation when he was appointed special counsel soon after Mr Comey’s firing. The overall investigation is looking into Russian election interference and whether Mr Trump’s campaign co-ordinated with the Russians, as well as possible obstruction of justice by Mr Trump.
Mr Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani told the New York Times he had no knowledge of the inquiry but said that since it was opened a year-and-a-half ago and they had not heard anything, apparently “they found nothing”.
Mr Trump has also repeatedly and vociferously denied collusion with the Russians.