WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday unleashed a new line of attack against special counsel Robert Mueller — accusing him of being a “true never-Trumper” — a day after Mueller reiterated that his final report did not exonerate Trump when it came to allegations he attempted to obstruct the Justice Department's Russia probe.
The president, in a Thursday morning tweet session aimed at Mueller, also seemed to acknowledge for the first time that Russia’s interference in the 2016 was aimed at “helping me to get elected,” before backpedaling on the statement some 20 minutes later.
"Russia, Russia, Russia! That’s all you heard at the beginning of this Witch Hunt Hoax … And now Russia has disappeared because I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected. It was a crime that didn’t exist,” Trump tweeted just before departing the White House to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy commencement in Colorado.
Asked about the tweet, Trump dismissed his morning missive, telling reporters at the White House: “No, Russia did not help me get elected. You know who got me elected? … I got me elected."
On Twitter, and in remarks to reporters, Trump continued to attack Mueller’s credibility, insisting that the career law enforcement officer who served as FBI director under President George W. Bush “should have never been chosen" to lead the Russia probe.
The president, who in March said Mueller had acted honorably in his duties as special counsel, distanced himself from that initial praise on Thursday, accusing Mueller without evidence of being a “never-Trumper” — referring to the Republicans who fought Trump’s 2016 GOP nomination.
Mueller on Wednesday spoke publicly for the first time about the 22-month probe into Russian election interference and allegations that Trump sought to obstruct the underlying investigation through a series of actions, including firing former FBI director James Comey, dangling the prospect of pardons to close allies subpoenaed by the special counsel, and by pushing for Mueller’s termination.
Mueller, in remarks delivered at the Justice Department, briefly repeated the key conclusions outlined in the special counsel’s 448-page final report, and noted that investigators did not issue a legal opinion on whether Trump should be charged with obstruction because of a decades-old Justice Department policy that bars the indictment of a sitting president.
“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said.
Attorney General William Barr ultimately issued a decision last month stating there was insufficient evidence produced by the Mueller investigation to bring forth obstruction charges. On Thursday, in a sit-down interview with CBS News, Barr said he "personally felt [Mueller] could’ve reached a decision."
"The opinion says you cannot indict a president while he is in office, but he could’ve reached a decision as to whether it was criminal activity," Barr said.
On Twitter, Trump asserted that Mueller “would have brought charges, if he had ANYTHING, but there were no charges to bring!”
Asked about the growing calls among Democrats for the U.S. House to open impeachment proceedings, Trump told reporters: “I never thought that would be even possible to be using that word. To me, it’s a dirty word. The word is dirty, filthy, disgusting.”
The Mueller report also stated that investigators did not establish evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with the Kremlin to influence the 2016 election, despite multiple attempts by Russian operatives to engage Trump campaign aides, and as Russia hacked into the emails of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Mueller on Wednesday issued a warning, saying “there were multiple, systemic efforts to interfere in our election, and that allegation deserves the attention of every American.”
Trump, when asked about his administration’s plans to secure local elections systems from foreign intrusions said: “We’re trying to do paper ballots as a backup system as much as possible. Because going to good old fashion paper in this modern age is the best way to do it.”