White House says Trump ‘has no intention’ to remove Mueller as interview reverberates
ABC News(WASHINGTON) — The White House did not refute comments made by President Donald Trump about special counsel Robert Mueller in a candid and wide-ranging interview Wednesday, reiterating Trump’s claim that the investigation should not analyze Trump family finances outside the scope of the Russia probe.
“The point he’s trying to make is that the clear purpose of the Russia investigation is to review Russia’s meddling in the election and that that should be the focus of the investigation, nothing beyond that,” said principal deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at Thursday’s White House Press briefing in one of her many responses to questions about Trump’s interview with three New York Times reporters in the Oval Office Wednesday.
Sanders added that Trump “has no intention” of pursuing Mueller’s firing, even as Bloomberg reported Thursday that the special counsel is including business dealings in his review.
Warning to Mueller
In the interview with the Times, Trump said if former FBI Director Mueller started investigating his family’s personal finances, specifically those unrelated to Russia, it would cross a line. One day later, the Bloomberg report said Mueller was doing just that.
“I think that’s a violation,” Trump told the Times Wednesday. “This is about Russia.”
He wouldn’t go so far as to say he would fire Mueller over the matter, telling the Times that he “can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen,” but adding that if Mueller did investigate, the special counsel would find that Trump’s finances are “extremely good.”
Mueller was authorized in May to lead the probe into “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the [Trump campaign],” according to the order naming him as special counsel. He may also look into “any matters that … may arise directly from the investigation,” which could potentially include an inquiry into Trump’s finances.
He is further granted “additional jurisdiction beyond that specified in his … original jurisdiction,” “or to investigate new matters that come to light” if the attorney general — or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, in this case, given Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal — determines “whether to include the additional matters.”
Regret about Sessions
Trump told the Times that he would not have nominated Sessions to be attorney general if he had known that he was going to recuse himself on the Russia probe. The president lamented that he ended up with a “second man, who’s a deputy,” referring to Rosenstein.
“Who is he?” asked Trump of the man he nominated in February for the Justice Department’s No. 2 role.
On Sessions, Trump asked: “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I can’t, you know, I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president.”
On Thursday morning, Sessions responded to questions about whether he would remain in his position, given the president’s comments.
“I have the honor of serving as attorney general, it’s something that goes beyond any thought I would have ever had for myself,” said Sessions. “We love this job, we love this department, and I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate.”
‘Pleasantries’ with Russian President Vladimir Putin
The president addressed his originally undisclosed G-20 dinner conversation with Putin, portraying it as a routine conversation. Trump told the Times that when he sat down to chat with Putin at the dinner attended by G-20 leaders and their spouses, it was because he wanted to say hello to his wife, Melania Trump, who was sitting next to Putin.
“She was sitting next to Putin and somebody else, and that’s the way it is,” said President Trump. “So the meal was going, and toward dessert I went down just to say hello to Melania, and while I was there I said hello to Putin. Really, pleasantries more than anything else,”
Trump was originally seated next to first lady of Japan Akie Abe, but claimed that she spoke no English — “like, not ‘hello,’” Trump said in the interview. Trump’s claim about Abe’s English proficiency was later called into question when a video surfaced showing her delivering a 15-minute keynote address in English at an event in 2014.
The president did concede that at least part of the conversation with Putin strayed from “pleasantries.” He and Putin spoke about “Russian adoption,” Trump said, the same topic the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. originally claimed to have spoken about with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at the June 2016 meeting that has come under scrutiny for the revelation that Trump Jr. believed he was attending in order to receive incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.
Arabella Kushner lightens the mood
During the interview — which also included an attempt by Trump to discredit former FBI Director James Comey’s June testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee as well as discussion about the ongoing Republican efforts at health care reform — two members of Trump’s family made cameo appearances.
Ivanka Trump, with daughter Arabella Kushner in tow, entered the Oval Office and temporarily halted the conversation.
“His testimony is loaded up with lies, OK? But people didn’t — we had a couple people that said — Hi baby, how are you?” said Trump, pausing the discussion about Comey to greet his granddaughter. “She spoke with President Xi [Jinping of China],” Trump told the room.
“Honey? Can you say a few words in Chinese? Say, like, ‘I love you, Grandpa,'” Trump said.
“Wo ai ni, Grandpa,” his granddaughter responded.
Trump described Arabella as “great,” “amazing,” and “unbelievable” before she left the room and the conversation reverted back to the stock market and then Russia.
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