- REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
- President Donald Trump said in an interview that he hopes special counsel Robert Mueller is “treating everything fairly” as part of his Russia investigation. Trump also sought to distance himself from Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman who was indicted on 12 counts on Monday. The president continued to say he’s not under investigation, contrary to several media reports over the last few months.
President Donald Trump said in an interview that he hopes special counsel Robert Mueller is “treating everything fairly” as he investigates Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, which involves looking into whether any members of the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to sway the race in his favor.
“Well, I hope he’s treating everything fairly,” Trump told “Full Measure” host Sharyl Attkisson in an interview that will air on Sunday. “And if he is, I’m going to be very happy, because when you talk about innocent, I am truly not involved in any collusion with Russia.
“Believe me, that’s the last thing I can think of to be involved in,” Trump added.
Trump’s defense team has been cooperating with Mueller’s investigation, largely at the urging of Ty Cobb, the white-collar defense attorney leading the president’s legal team, who has argued that cooperating with the special counsel will ensure that the investigation concludes quickly and smoothly, and without the president getting caught in the crosshairs.
But Jay Sekulow, another attorney on Trump’s defense team, told Politico on Thursday he will lodge a complaint against Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – who appointed Mueller special counsel in May – if Mueller looks too closely at Trump’s prior business dealings.
Trump also addressed issues surrounding Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman who was indicted on Monday along with his longtime associate, Rick Gates, as part of Mueller’s investigation.
- Elsa/Getty Images
“Paul was not there very long,” Trump said of Manafort’s tenure on the campaign.
Manafort joined the operation in March 2016 and departed in August, three days after The New York Times reported that Ukraine’s pro-Russian Party of Regions had earmarked $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments for Manafort for his work consulting for the party between 2007 and 2012.
Explaining why Manafort left the campaign, Trump said, “Well, I think we found out something about he may be involved with all – with certain nations, and I don’t even know exactly what it was in particular.”
He continued: “But there was a point at which we just felt Paul would be better off, because we don’t want to have many potential conflicts.”
Because of his extensive ties to Russia, Manafort has been a subject of red-hot focus from Mueller’s team.
The former campaign chairman was indicted Monday on 12 counts, including conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money; unregistered agent of a foreign principal; false and misleading Foreign Agents Registration Act statements; false statements; and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.
When Trump first hired Manafort in last March, Manafort was known for having worked as a top consultant to former Ukrainian president and pro-Russian strongman Viktor Yanukovych, and is widely credited with helping him win the election in 2010. Yanukovych is a prominent figure in the Party of Regions.
In July, The New York Times reported on financial records Manafort filed in Cyprus that showed he was $17 million in debt to pro-Russian interests when he joined the campaign.
Manafort is also associated with Oleg Deripaska, a wealthy Russian oligarch with known ties to the Kremlin. Deripaska’s representatives claimed, in legal complaints filed in the Cayman Islands in 2014, that Manafort had disappeared after Deripaska gave him $19 million to invest in a failed Ukrainian TV venture.
Earlier this month, The Atlantic published several emails that appeared to show Manafort using his elevated role in the Trump campaign to resolve the dispute with Deripaska, by offering him “private briefings” on the campaign.
Manafort was also one of three top Trump campaign members, in addition to Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr., who attended a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer offering damaging information on then Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Trump said during his interview with Attkisson that no one has informed him that Mueller plans to question him.
“As far as I’m concerned, I haven’t been told that we’re under investigation,” Trump said. “I’m not under investigation.”
Multiple revelations over the last few months appear to contradict the president’s claim. Mueller is said to be building an obstruction-of-justice case against Trump related to his decision to fire James Comey as FBI director in May. At the time, Comey was spearheading the bureau’s Russia investigation. Rosenstein appointed Mueller special counsel shortly after Trump fired Comey.
Mueller is also reportedly investigating Trump for his involvement in crafting a misleading statement that his son, Donald Trump Jr., released following revelations that he met with the Russian lawyer offering dirt on Clinton last June.