WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump raised questions about special counsel Robert Mueller’s impartiality Friday when he called Mueller’s relationship with former FBI Director James Comey “bothersome” and accused Mueller of hiring “Clinton supporters.”
Trump also said that the May 12 tweet he made up to suggest he had tapes of conversations with Comey might have changed Comey’s testimony.
Trump made the comments in an interview that was taped at the White House Thursday by “Fox and Friends” host Ainsley Earhardt and aired Friday morning.
Trump left open the question of whether Mueller should step aside from the investigation of Russian meddling in last year’s election and Trump campaign ties to Russia.
Asked if Mueller should recuse himself, Trump said, “Well, he’s very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome. We’re going to have to see.”
White House spokesman Sean Spicer Friday afternoon said, Trump has authority to fire Mueller but that “he has no intention of doing that.”
Comey and Mueller worked together in President George W. Bush’s administration when Comey was a top Justice Department official and Mueller led the FBI.
“Jim and Bob are friends in the sense that co-workers are friends,” said Comey’s attorney David Kelley. “They don’t really have a personal relationship.”
Trump also complained that Mueller has hired backers of his former Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for his legal team, which has grown to 14 members.
Asked about Mueller’s investigation, Trump said, “There’s been no collusion, no obstruction and virtually everybody agrees to that. ... So we’ll have to see. I can say that the people that’ve been hired were all Hillary Clinton supporters.”
Three of the lawyers donated to Democrats Clinton and former President Barack Obama.
Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have backed Mueller as a nonpartisan special counsel. Trump added in the interview: “He’s an honorable man.”
A spokesman for Mueller had no comment on Trump’s interview.
Trump also addressed why he tweeted on May 12: “James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
On Thursday, Trump said he did not tape Comey, a day ahead of the House Intelligence Committee’s deadline to turn over any recordings of the conversations.
“I didn’t tape him,” Trump said. “But when he found out that there may be tapes out there . . . I think his story may have changed.”
Trump said his own story didn’t change — an apparent reference to his statement in his May 9 dismissal letter to Comey that the former FBI director had told him three times he was not the target of an FBI investigation.
“He did admit that what I said was right,” Trump said of Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8. “And if you look back before he heard about that, I think maybe he wasn’t admitting that.”
Comey testified he didn’t make public that Trump wasn’t a target because he didn’t want to have to correct the record if that changed.
Asked if Trump’s tweet changed Comey’s story, Kelley said in an email, “No.”