Following the appointment of a Special Counsel by the Department of Justice to investigate the claims of collusion between the Trump election campaign and Russia, Donald Trump responded yesterday with an extraordinary press conference. As expected he denied any collusion with Russia and repeated the claim that the investigation was a “witch-hunt”. However, he said that he only “speaks for himself,” which has been interpreted by many as a possibility that some of his staff may have been involved. At the press conference, which was held with the Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, Mr Trump argued that the investigation was dividing the nation. However, he seemed to move away from simply denying everything to a more considered response:
“I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt. There is no collusion – certainly myself and my campaign – but I can always speak for myself and the Russians – zero,”
In what must have been embarrassing for the President, he was asked in front of President Santos whether he knew of anything which “might be worthy of criminal charges in these investigations or impeachment”. Mr Trump could only reply with: “I think it is totally ridiculous. Everybody thinks so.”
He was asked if he had urged the former FBI director James Comey – whom Mr Trump fired on 9 May – to drop the investigation. He impatiently replied: “No. No. Next question.” He then set about attacking the credibility of Mr Comey, saying he was “very unpopular with most people” and that he had a “a poor, poor performance in Congress”. He again suggested that a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosentein was the justification for the firing, but this contradicts not only interviews Mr Trump has given but comments by others in the know. Mr Trump told a NBC interview on 11 May, of the firing of Mr Comey, “It was set up a while ago.” Senators at a closed door meeting with Mr Rosentein yesterday support that view. Dick Durbin, who is a Senator from Illinois and the second highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said that the Deputy Attorney General “knew of the president’s decision to fire him and then he wrote his memo.” Other Senators agreed with Mr Durbin, with Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon saying that Mr Rosenstein “has no understanding that his memo was used as a coverup or doesn’t want to take any accountability for it”.
Earlier yesterday the President had criticised Mr Rosenstein for hiring Robert Mueller as the Special Counsel to investigate the Trump camapign: “With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign and Obama administration, there was never a special councel [sic] appointed! This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”
He later added that the appointment of a special counsel was a “very negative thing” that “hurts our country terribly because it shows we’re a divided, mixed-up, not unified 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, […] I think it shows division, and it shows that we’re not together as a country.”
Perhaps the most significant quote from the President’s press conference yesterday was his comment that he only speaks for himself and his move away from complete denial. On Wednesday he had said: “As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know – there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity,” Just a day later he is now only defending himself. Maybe he is thinking long-term and the possibility that some of his staff will be found to have colluded with Russia. If so he may be covering his own back and setting himself up to deny any knowledge of their collusion.
Meanwhile the investigations continue, with Mr Comey set to testify before the Senate Intelligence Comittee. The Committe has also told the acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe that they are“seeking any notes or memorandum prepared by the former director regarding any communications he may have had with senior White House and Department of Justice officials related to investigations into Russia’s efforts”. If such documents exist and are provided they, along with the evidence of Mr Comey (which will be given in both private and public sessions) could be damning and will perhaps give us an idea of how this crisis may play out.
Sources & Further Reading:
- Trump denies collusion with Russia but says he ‘speaks for himself’ – theguardian.com – 19 May 2017 – by Julian Borger , Lauren Gambino and Ben Jacobs in Washington, and Lois Beckett in New York
- The investigations swirling around Donald Trump – a short guide – theguardian.com – 18 May 2017
- This is how Donald Trump’s presidency will crumble in the next year – independent.co.uk – 18 May 2017 – by Sean O’Grady
- Trump, Citing ‘a Witch Hunt,’ Denies Any Collusion With Russia – nytimes.com – 18 May 2017 – by Mark Landler