WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday revived his attacks against special counsel Robert Mueller — accusing the career law enforcement officer without evidence of deleting a trove of text messages between a pair of former FBI agents critical of Trump — a day after House Democrats announced Mueller will testify before lawmakers.
Trump, in a phone interview with Fox Business Network, renewed his unsubstantiated allegation that Mueller deliberately destroyed text messages between former top-ranking FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who both worked on the Russia investigation. The one-time couple had mocked Trump in text messages leading up to the 2016 election. The messages were made public after Trump took office.
On Wednesday, Trump claimed Mueller was behind 19,000 text messages that were lost from devices belonging to the pair, but the Justice Department’s inspector general, in a December report, said the missing texts were the result of unintentional technical issues.
The president, speaking to Fox Business Network host Maria Bartiromo insisted: “Mueller terminated them illegally. He terminated the emails, he terminated all the stuff between Strzok and Page.”
“They’re gone and that is illegal,” Trump said in a phone interview hours before he departed for the G-20 summit of world leaders in Osaka, Japan “That’s a crime.”
Asked for his initial reaction about Mueller’s July 17 testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees, Trump replied: “My reaction is — it never ends,”
Mueller, a Republican, was “reluctant” to testify publicly, but agreed in response to subpoenas issued by both panels, said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.
In a rare news conference last month, Mueller said the special counsel office’s 448-page final report “speaks for itself” and he “would not provide information beyond what is already public in any appearance before Congress.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill shortly after Trump’s interview, said the hearings were needed so that Americans hear directly from Mueller.
Nadler argued that the public has been subjected to “months of deception by Attorney General William Barr and Trump as to what was in the report.” Barr issued a four-page summary of the report before its full release, spurring criticism from Democrats that he was shaping the narrative of the report to protect Trump from some of the its more damaging revelations, including Trump’s attempts to fire Mueller. Barr has pushed back on such claims.
Nadler and Schiff both said they were prepared to challenge any attempts by Trump to block Mueller’s open testimony, after he has repeatedly pushed back and refused to comply with a series of congressional subpoenas related to the Mueller investigation.
Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow said Wednesday the president’s legal team would not attempt to impede Mueller’s testimony,
“There are no legal moves being made here,” Sekulow said.
Trump, in a more than 45-minute-long interview with Bartiromo, touched on a wide range of issues. He raised the prospect of the federal government following through on an antitrust lawsuit against Google and Facebook, accusing the tech firms of bias against conservative voices, and he threatened to impose additional tariffs on China as he prepares to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G-20 summit over a stalled new trade agreement.
Later, speaking to reporters at the White House before his departure, Trump refused to say whether he would discuss Russian election interference with Russian President Vladmir Putin.
“What I say to him is none of your business,” Trump said.