Donald Trump has questioned the impartiality of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the US election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
In an interview with Fox News aired Friday morning, Trump argued that Mueller, a former FBI director, is “good friends” with James Comey, Mueller’s successor at the spy agency whom Trump fired on 9 May. Trump later acknowledged he took this step with the Russia investigation in mind.
Trump also said that some of the staffers that Mueller has hired for his investigation “are all Hillary Clinton supporters”. US news reports say some of these staffers have made campaign contributions to Democratic candidates.
Asked point blank if Mueller should recuse himself from the Russia investigation, Trump said: “Well, he’s very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome. But he’s also – we’re going to have to see.”
Trump added: “I mean we’re going to have to see in terms – look, there has been no obstruction. There has been no collusion. There has been leaking by Comey.”
Trump did say, however, that Mueller is an “honorable man”.
Trump also claimed he had always told a “straight story” about whether he recorded his private conversations with Comey.
He repeated his statement from Thursday that he had never made “tapes” of their conversations – despite an earlier menacing tweet and comments suggesting he might have – but added that when Comey “found out that I, you know, that there may be tapes out there, whether it’s governmental tapes or anything else, and who knows, I think his story may have changed”.
Asked separately on Fox News whether Trump was trying to intimidate Comey with the May tweet, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said: “No, quite the opposite. I think the president made it very clear that he wanted the truth to come out, he wanted everyone to be honest about this and he wanted to get to the bottom of it and I think he succeeded in doing that.”
He added: “The reality is that he wanted to make sure that the truth came out and by talking about something like tapes made people have to – made Comey in particular think to himself, ‘I better be honest, I better tell the truth about the circumstances regarding the situation.’”
Trump has disputed Comey’s assertion that Trump asked the FBI director for a pledge of loyalty during a meeting. When news of Comey’s account broke, Trump tweeted that Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
AFP and the Associated Press contributed to this report