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Trump calls for Russia to be reinstated into G-7
President Trump on Friday said that Russia should be reinstated into the Group of Seven major economies, a comment that could further anger U.S. allies during what is already expected to be a tense set of meetings.
Speaking to reporters on the South Lawn before leaving for Canada to attend the G-7 summit, Trump said he has been "Russia's worst nightmare" but argued the country should be a part of the economic talks.
"With that being said, Russia should be in this meeting," he said. "Why are we having a meeting without Russia being in the meeting?"
Russia was ousted from the then-Group of Eight in 2014 in order to punish Moscow for annexing Crimea and supporting pro-Kremlin separatists in eastern Ukraine.
"Whether you like it or not, and it may not be politically correct, but we have a world to run," Trump said. "And in the G-7, which used be the G-8, they threw Russia out. They should let Russia come back in because we should have Russia at the negotiating table."
The president's remarks stoked even more drama surrounding the G-7, where he was already expected to face a barrage of criticism over his decision to impose steep tariffs on goods produced by U.S. allies.
Trump criticized those countries during his early morning remarks, coming just hours after the White House announced the president would leave the summit early.
"We are going to deal with the unfair trade practices. If you look what Canada, Mexico, the European Union, what all of them have been doing to us for many decades, we have to change it," he said.
"If we can't make a deal, we'll terminate [the North American Free Trade Agreement]."
The president's remarks, however, could fuel criticism that he has been too friendly toward Russia, another sore spot for G-7 nations. In addition to its activities in Ukraine, Russia has faced international condemnation for its support of Syrian President Bashar Assad and malicious cyber activities.
"This is weak," said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a vocal Trump critic. "Putin is not our friend and he is not the president's buddy. He is a thug using Soviet-style aggression to wage a shadow war against America, and our leaders should act like it."
Trump has frequently expressed a desire to form a closer relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, even as he grapples with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Russia in its effort to interfere in the 2016 election.
The president's latest comments came during a winding, 20-minute conversation that touched on a litany of topics.
Trump raised the prospect of pardoning the late boxer Muhammad Ali, who was convicted of draft evasion during the Vietnam War.
"He was not very popular then; his memory is very popular now. I'm thinking about Muhammad Ali," Trump said.
The move would largely be symbolic: The Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1971, and then-President Carter pardoned all draft evaders in 1977.
Trump let it be known that at least one athlete should not expect clemency: O.J. Simpson, who spent time in prison after being convicted on robbery and kidnapping charges in an effort to retrieve memorabilia.
"I'm not thinking about O.J.," he said.
Trump spoke about another possible pardon, his own, despite his insistence he does not want to talk about the Russia probe. Trump repeated his belief that he can pardon himself to avoid legal trouble as part of that investigation.
"No, no. I am not above the law," he said. "I do have an absolute right to pardon myself, but I will never have to do it because I didn't do anything wrong and everybody knows it."
Trump offered cryptic remarks about EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, saying the embattled Cabinet member is "is being attacked very viciously by the press" over allegations of self-dealing and improper use of government resources.
"I'm not saying that he is blameless, but we'll see what happens," Trump said, declining to offer Pruitt a vote of confidence.
The president also weighed in on first lady Melania Trump's health, a constant source of speculation since she underwent a kidney procedure last month and has seldom been seen publicly since. Trump said his wife is not traveling with him to Canada because she is unable to fly for a month while she recovers.
And Trump extended condolences to celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who died by suicide on Friday at a hotel in France.
"I think it's very sad. In fact, I want to extend to his family my heartfelt condolences. That was very shocking," Trump said. "I enjoyed his show. He was quite a character, I will say."
Updated at 10 a.m.