Washington: President Donald Trump has long downplayed Russian interference in the 2016 election, often claiming it was an “excuse” invented by Democrats to explain how they lost an election they were favored to win.
But on Thursday, Trump briefly admitted Moscow’s involvement aided in his victory.
“Russia, Russia, Russia! That’s all you heard at the beginning of this Witch Hunt Hoax,” the president tweeted. “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 continued. “So now the Dems and their partner, the Fake News Media, say he fought back against this phony crime that didn’t exist, this horrendous false accusation, and he shouldn’t fight back, he should just sit back and take it. Could this be Obstruction? No, Mueller didn’t find Obstruction either. Presidential Harassment!”
Speaking to reporters on the South Lawn, the president backed off his assertion that Moscow’s meddling helped him win.
“No, Russia did not get me elected,” Trump said. “You know who got me elected? You know who got me elected? I got me elected.”
“Russia didn’t help me at all,” he continued. “Russia, if anything, I think, helped the other side.”
The president’s comments came a day after special counsel Robert Mueller issued his first public statement on his investigation into the Russian election interference.
His 448-page report extensively documented the Kremlin’s effort’s to influence the general election in Trump’s favor, most notably by releasing troves of emails — some of which were politically damaging — from hacked Democratic accounts. The special counsel’s report concluded that the Russian government interfered in the election “in sweeping and systematic fashion,” and his office indicted 34 individuals and three Russian businesses on charges ranging from computer hacking to conspiracy and financial crimes.
Mueller found no conspiracy between Russia and Trump’s campaign. But he chronicled at least 10 episodes of efforts by Trump or his staff to obstruct the federal probe.
Trump, who six weeks ago said Mueller acted “honorably,” attacked the special counsel on Thursday.
“I think Mueller is a true never Trumper,” he said.
The president again falsely claimed that the Mueller report cleared him on obstruction of justice. Although Mueller declined to charge Trump with obstruction, he explicitly refused to exonerate the president.
“If we had had confidence that the president had clearly not committed a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said Wednesday, adding: “Charging the president with a crime is not an option we could consider.”
Mueller’s statement, which he said would be his final word on the matter, immediately ramped up pressure on congressional Democrats to launch impeachment proceedings against Trump. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who has resisted calls from some members of her party for Trump’s impeachment in the wake of Mueller’s report, did not rule it out. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said “all options are on the table.”
Trump told reporters he couldn’t fathom his own impeachment.
“It’s a dirty, filthy, disgusting word,” he said. “It’s a giant presidential harassment.”