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Brimming with resentment, President Donald Trump fervently denied on Thursday that his campaign had collaborated with Russia or that he’d tried to kill an FBI probe of the issue, contending that “even my enemies” recognise his innocence and declaring himself the most unfairly hounded president in history.
Asked point-blank if he’d done anything that might merit prosecution or even impeachment, he said no and then added concerning the allegations and questions that have mounted as he nears the four-month mark of his presidency: “I think it’s totally ridiculous. Everybody thinks so.”
Not quite everybody. While Trump tweeted and voiced his indignation at the White House, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed an independent special counsel to lead a heightened federal Trump-Russia investigation the day before, briefed the entire Senate behind closed doors at the Capitol.
By several senators’ accounts, he contradicted Trump’s statements that Rosenstein’s written criticism of FBI Director James Comey had been a factor in Comey’s recent firing by the president.
Trump is leaving Friday for his first foreign trip, to the Mideast and beyond, and aides had hoped the disarray at home would have been calmed if not resolved, allowing the White House to refocus and move ahead.
Republicans on Capitol Hill hoped the same, reasoning that the appointment of a special counsel could free them to work on a major tax overhaul and other matters without constant distractions.
Trump said he was about to name a replacement for Comey, another move to settle the waters. Former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman was seen as the front-runner.
But calmness seemed far off.
Trump clearly knew what he wanted to say as he took a few questions at a news briefing with visiting Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
Did he urge Comey at a February meeting to drop his probe of the Russia connections of Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn?
“No. No. Next question.”
Did he in fact collude with Russia in his campaign to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton?
“Everybody, even my enemies, have said there is no collusion,” he maintained.
However another answer on that subject seemed both more specific and perhaps ambiguous.
“There is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign – but I can only speak for myself – and the Russians. Zero.”
“The entire thing has been a witch hunt,” he declared, echoing one of the tweets he’d sent out just after dawn: “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”
He said he respected the special counsel appointment but also said it “hurts our country terribly.”