WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Sunday he will allow his next attorney general to decide whether to publicly disclose the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe upon the conclusion of the nearly two-year-old investigation.
Trump, in a wide-ranging interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation,” continued to rail against Mueller’s probe, but did not indicate his preference on releasing the results of the investigation, which has been examining Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and ties to former Trump campaign aides.
“That's up to the attorney general,” Trump told “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan. When asked if he’d have an issue with the report being made public, Trump said: “It depends. I have no idea what it's going to say.”
Attorney general nominee William Barr, when asked last month whether he would release Mueller’s report, told a Senate panel his “goal” would be to release as much information “as I can, consistent with the law.”
The president’s interview is part of a 15-year tradition, dating to President George W. Bush, of the commander-in-chief sitting down for a lengthy interview to air on Super Bowl Sunday with the network carrying the NFL championship game.
In the interview, Trump defended his foreign policy positions that are often at odds with his own advisers and dismissed reports that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is considering stepping down to run for a Kansas senate seat.
He also reiterated his willingness to force another shutdown or declare a national emergency to fund a southern border wall should a bipartisan group of lawmakers not return a border security deal to his liking by Feb. 15.
“I don't take anything off the table. I don't like to take things off the table,” he said.
Trump took aim at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has insisted House Democrats will not support funding for Trump’s long-promised wall, and who last month pressured the president into postponing his State of the Union address until there was an end to the five-week government shutdown.
“She wanted to win a political point,” Trump said. “I happen to think it's very bad politics because basically she wants open borders. She doesn't mind human trafficking.”
Pelosi’s chief of staff, Drew Hamill, pushed back against Trump in a statement, saying: “The President knows, bluster aside, that Democrats are committed to securing our borders while upholding our values as a nation. The President should stop undermining bipartisan efforts to do just that.”
Asked about his announced plans to withdraw troops from Syria — a move that his top military advisers and top-ranking Senate Republicans have urged him against, citing the ongoing threat of the Islamic State — Trump replied, “You're going to always have pockets of something.”
“You're not going to keep armies there because you have a few people,” Trump said referring to the remaining numbers of Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq.
Trump did not directly answer when asked to give a time frame for troop withdrawal from Syria and possibly Afghanistan, but emphasized that he emerged the victor from a crowded 2016 Republican primary field on a promise of bringing troops back home from the Middle East.
He said the United States would maintain a military presence in Iraq to keep “watch” over nearby Iran, which he views as a bigger threat, despite the assurances of his intelligence community that Iran is not developing a nuclear weapons program.
The president also left open the prospect of returning troops to the region, as needed: “We have very fast airplanes, we have very good cargo planes. We can come back very quickly.”
Trump, who halfway through his first term in office has experienced record staff turnover in the West Wing, defended the growing number of cabinet members who are working in an acting, not permanent, capacity, allowing them to bypass Congress’ formal confirmation process.
“It's easier to make moves when they're acting,” said Trump of his acting defense secretary, acting chief of staff and acting interior secretary.
The president downplayed the role of recently indicted campaign operative Roger Stone in his campaign, saying Stone’s work was “way at the beginning” of his 2016 bid. Stone has pleaded not guilty to seven federal charges stemming from Mueller’s probe, including charges that he lied about his role in gathering information about hacked Democratic Party emails that were eventually posted by the website WikiLeaks.
“I mean Roger's a character but . . . Roger wasn't on my campaign except way at the beginning," Trump said.
Lawmakers on avoiding another shutdown
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, said on CNN's "State of the Union": “I think that the president is dead set on keeping his campaign promise.”
"I believe that we've got a chance this week to move things. Will we? We don't know. The president could be right. We could be wasting our time. On the other hand, we could come up to a solution. But as long as the speaker and the president are way at odds, the chances of us reaching an agreement are slim. But it could happen.”
On Fox News Sunday, two members of the bipartisan conference committee tasked with arriving at a compromise spoke about a possible deal.
Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota) said, “I think we can get to a solution, but it does need to include barrier funding. It needs to include personnel, technology and funding for a border barrier.”
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said, "I feel that if we don’t get outside pressure, the committee can sit down and work this out . . . We can work out a deal. I know we can sit down and work it if we just don’t get any outside pressure, do what we need to do, and I feel that the process as appropriators . . . we can work something out. I feel confident."