Political News

Trump Says He’s Unlikely to Sit for Interview in Russia Investigation

Posted November 18, 2018 3:01 p.m. EST

FILE -- President Donald Trump speaks to reporters at the White House in Washington, Nov. 9, 2018. Trump said in an interview aired on Nov. 18, 2018, that he most likely would not sit for an interview with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, asserting that “we’ve wasted enough time on this witch hunt and the answer is, probably, we’re finished.” (Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times)

President Donald Trump said in an interview aired Sunday that he most likely would not sit for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller, asserting that “we’ve wasted enough time on this witch hunt and the answer is, probably, we’re finished.”

The president also claimed that he had no idea that his acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, viewed the Mueller investigation skeptically, despite reports that the two had multiple conversations about the inquiry over the past year.

The comments from Trump were made during a wide-ranging interview with Chris Wallace, host of “Fox News Sunday,” who sat with the president at the White House last week. The president continued to be defensive about his abandoned trip to a U.S. military cemetery during a visit to Paris last week, and said he declined to listen to an audio recording of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi being killed by people connected to the Saudi crown prince last month.

His comments on the Mueller investigation marked an apparent reversal from a year of claiming that he was willing and eager to be interviewed by the special counsel, who is investigating possible collusion between the president’s campaign and Russian officials during the 2016 election. Trump’s legal team has blanched at the idea, fearing that the president might lie under oath, and has steadily narrowed the path for such an interview.

Instead, his lawyers are working on providing written answers to some, but not all, of Mueller’s questions this week. Trump confirmed that his team would probably not answer questions about whether he obstructed justice to thwart the investigation, flatly maintaining, “There was no obstruction of justice.”

It remains to be seen whether Whitaker would sign off on a subpoena for testimony from Trump if Mueller sought one; the president’s advisers believe that he would not do so.

Before becoming acting attorney general this month, Whitaker made numerous public statements critical of the Russia investigation, displaying open hostility toward the special counsel on television and social media — a fact that Trump insisted he was unaware of in the interview.

“I did not know he took views on the Mueller investigation as such,” Trump told Wallace. He said that even knowing that now, “I don’t think it had any effect.”

Several news outlets have reported that Trump and Whitaker discussed the inquiry in the Oval Office while Whitaker served as the chief of staff to the attorney general, Jeff Sessions. The day after the midterm elections, Trump forced out Sessions, who had long endured the president’s wrath over his recusal from the investigation.

When Wallace pointed out to Trump that Whitaker had predetermined that there was no collusion in his public commentary over the past two years, Trump said: “He’s right. What do you do when a person’s right? There is no collusion. He happened to be right. I mean, he said it. So if he said there is collusion, I’m supposed to be taking somebody that says there is?”

The president also appeared cool on the likelihood that his embattled Department of Homeland Security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, would keep her job much longer.

“Well, there’s a chance,” he said, when asked how likely it was that she would remain. “I like her very much. I respect her very much. I’d like her to be much tougher on the border — much tougher, period.”

Asked a similar question about his chief of staff, John Kelly, whose understanding of politics the president has privately questioned, Trump replied, “I haven’t even thought about John in terms of this.”

“There are certain things I love what he does,” the president added. “And there are certain things that I don’t like that he does — that aren’t his strength. It’s not that he doesn’t do — you know, he works so hard. He’s doing an excellent job in many ways. There are a couple of things where it’s just not his strength. It’s not his fault, it’s not his strength.”

When the discussion turned to Khashoggi’s violent death, Trump said there was “no reason for me to hear the tape.”

“Because it’s a suffering tape, it’s a terrible tape. I’ve been fully briefed on it. There’s no reason for me to hear it. In fact, I said to the people, ‘Should I?’ They said: ‘You really shouldn’t. There’s no reason,'” Trump said. “I know exactly — I know everything that went on in the tape without having to hear it.”

The president over the weekend resisted reports that the CIA had concluded that the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered Khashoggi’s murder. He has insisted he is waiting for more information.