Trump: ‘Phony witch hunt’ drove wedge between US, Russia

Trump: ‘Phony witch hunt’ drove wedge between US, Russia
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump orders US troops back to active duty for coronavirus response Trump asserts power to decide info inspector general for stimulus gives Congress Fighting a virus with the wrong tools MORE on Monday evening blamed special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s investigation into Russian election interference for driving a “wedge” between Washington and Moscow.

“It’s driven a wedge between us and Russia,” Trump told Fox News’s Sean Hannity in his first one-on-one interview since meeting face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, earlier in the day. “Maybe we’ve just knocked down that wedge.” 

Trump sparked broad criticism — including from Republicans — earlier Monday by casting doubt on Russian interference in the 2016 election at a press conference alongside Putin following their meeting. The Russian president has repeatedly denied meddling in the election, which he reiterated Monday. 

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Trump has consistently derided Mueller’s investigation, which includes looking into whether there was coordination between Trump’s campaign and Moscow, as a “witch hunt.” On Monday, Trump doubled down on that criticism, accusing Mueller’s probe of damaging the U.S. relationship with Russia.

“It’s a phony witch hunt, rigged deal,” Trump told Hannity. “We’ve had a phony witch hunt deal drive us apart.” 

The president also said that Putin described the impact of the Russia investigation on U.S.-Russia relations as “a shame” during their closed-door session.

“It’s a sad thing,” Trump said. “It’s a very sad thing for our country to see this.”

Trump sparked broad outrage earlier Monday when he refused to denounce Russian interference in the 2016 election — a judgment reached by the U.S. intelligence community. 

“They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia,” Trump said during the joint press conference with Putin. 

“I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be,” the president continued. “So, I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.” 

The remarks prompted a statement from Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsExperts report recent increase in Chinese group's cyberattacks Acting director of national intelligence begins hiring freeze: reports Ratcliffe nomination puts Susan Collins in tough spot MORE describing the intelligence community’s assessment as “clear” and “fact-based.” 

Trump later clarified his remarks amid backlash, writing on Twitter, “As I said today and many times before, ‘I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people.’ However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past – as the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along!” 

Trump’s face-to-face with Putin took place days after Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking into the Democratic National Committee and state election systems as part of the election meddling effort.  

In the interview with Hannity, Trump reiterated the Russian government’s offer Monday that Mueller can “come and work” with Russian officials on the probe.

“They probably don’t want to,” Trump acknowledged.