WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday declared the Justice Department watchdog’s report “totally exonerates me” and showed that the FBI “plotted against my election” as he staged an extraordinary impromptu news conference on the White House lawn.
Speaking for the first time about the report released Thursday by Inspector General Michael Horowitz, Trump stressed findings damaging to former FBI Director James Comey and other officials, but disagreed with its conclusion they acted without political motivation.
“The end result was wrong. I mean there was total bias. It was a pretty good report, and then I say the IG blew it at the very end with that statement,” Trump said.
The president also claimed the report cleared him in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, even though Horowitz addressed only the FBI’s election-year probe of Hillary Clinton’s email server in the 562-page internal review.
“I think the report yesterday, maybe more important than anything, it totally exonerates me,” said Trump. Trump said he would not fire Mueller, but he sought to stretch the report’s findings about five FBI employees’ anti-Trump text messages to Mueller’s investigation.
“I did nothing wrong,” Trump said. “The IG report yesterday went a long way to show that. And I think that the Mueller investigation has been totally discredited.”
Trump made his comments during a surprise 30-minute interview with Fox News at its encampment on the White House north lawn, and then spent about another 20 minutes taking shouted questions from the White House press corps.
In the wide-ranging exchange, Trump talked about his new tariffs on China, said North Korea is returning Americans’ remains from the war, and praised its dictator Kim Jong Un: “He speaks and his people sit up for attention. I want my people to do the same.”
Later, Trump dismissed that remark as sarcasm. Asked how he squared praise for Kim with the death of American Otto Wambler after being held in North Korea, Trump said, “You know why? Because I don’t want to see a nuclear weapon destroy you or your family.”
Trump also blamed former President Barack Obama for losing the Crimea. Asked why it wasn’t Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s fault for invading the country, Trump said, “President Obama lost Crimea because President Putin didn’t respect President Obama.”
And asked if he is concerned that his longtime former attorney Michael Cohen, under criminal investigation by Manhattan federal prosecutors, might flip and testify, Trump said, “No, I’m not worried because I did nothing wrong.”
But Trump used the unusual meeting with reporters mostly to attack Comey and the FBI he led, depicting an agency of biased officials who set out to derail his presidential campaign.
“What he did was criminal. What he did was so bad for the Constitution,” Trump said. “I think Comey was the ringleader of this whole den of thieves.”
The report faults Comey for mistakes and breaking established protocols with his public statements about the Clinton probe, but it does not accuse him of breaking the law.
Trump also called the exchanges of text messages, several of them anti-Trump, by FBI Assistant Director Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page “vicious.” Noting Strzok’s said in a message about his candidacy before the election that “we’ll stop him,” Trump said, “I am amazed that Peter Strzok is still at the FBI, and so is everybody else that read that report.”
Trump made his first comments about the IG report on Twitter Friday morning.
“The IG Report is a total disaster for Comey, his minions and sadly, the FBI. Comey will now officially go down as the worst leader, by far, in the history of the FBI,” he tweeted.
Then referring to his firing of Comey in May 2017, Trump added, “I did a great service to the people in firing him. Good Instincts.”