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Trump ‘ready’ for Mueller interview under oath

Special counsel Mueller has reportedly sought to interview the President for alleged obstruction of justice for sacking FBI director James Comey after asking him to “let go” the agency’s probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s Russia contacts.

world Updated: Jan 25, 2018 10:17 IST
Yashwant Raj
US President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he is “looking forward” to being interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller.
US President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he is “looking forward” to being interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller.(REUTERS)

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he is “looking forward” to being interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections and alleged attempts to hamper the probe.

Mueller has reportedly sought to interview the President for alleged obstruction of justice — which is a crime unlike collusion — for sacking FBI director James Comey after asking him to “let go” the agency’s probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s Russia contacts.

“I would love to do it (the interview), and I would like to do it as soon as possible. I would do it under oath, absolutely,” the President told reporters at an impromptu briefing in the White House shortly before he took off for his first visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“There’s been no collusion whatsoever. There’s been no obstruction whatsoever,” he said.

When a reporter asked how he defined collusion, he retorted, “You’re going to define it for me, OK? But I can tell you, there’s no collusion. I couldn’t have cared less about Russians having to do with my campaign.”

Former FBI director Comey has alleged that the day after ex-NSA Flynn was sacked for lying about his Russia contacts, the President had told him, “I hope you can let this go.” The implication was clearly for the FBI director to go easy on Flynn’s Russia contacts.

Three months later, Comey was fired for botching up the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. Comey is widely seen to have helped Trump win with surprising last-minute moves in that probe.

“The fact is, you people won’t say this, but I’ll say it: I was a much better candidate than her (Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton). You always say she was a bad candidate. You never say I was a good candidate. I was one of the greatest candidates. Nobody else would have beaten the Clinton machine, as crooked as it was. But I was a great candidate. Someday you’re going to say that.”

In a way, he was defending himself.

The special counsel Mueller, who was appointed after Comey’s firing to conduct the FBI probe into Russian interference in US elections, is reported to have sought to interview Trump now, after going through some his past and present senior officials, regarding his decision to fire Comey.

Investigators from office of Mueller, who was appointed after Comey’s firing to conduct the FBI probe, interviewed attorney general Jeff Sessions last week, and CIA chief Mike Pompeo and national intelligence director Dan Coates in December 2017, among others.

Trump has vigorously denied there was any collusion by his campaign with Russian interference, and has called the probe a “witch hunt”.

There have been reports that he had even considered firing the special counsel, a prospect that had greatly exercised even with his allies.

Experts and commentators note that the move by the special counsel to interview the President could indicate the investigation was in final stages — “only then could you seek to interview the president, when you have most of what you need, because you can’t go back for another round”.

The special counsel’s office has handed out at least four indictments so far. Flynn and George Papadopoulos, a young campaign aide, have already pleaded guilty — to lying about their Russia contacts — and are cooperating with the probe under their respective plea agreements.

Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and right-hand man Rick Gates were arrested and released on bail on charges of money laundering and violation laws governing Americans acting as agents of foreign government — they are required to register — but they have contested those allegations.