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U.S. President Donald Trump told the New York Times that if a special prosecutor investigating Russia’s influence on last year’s presidential election and possible collusion with his campaign expands the probe to look at Trump’s family finances unrelated to Russia, that would cross the line of what is acceptable.
“I would say yes,” Trump said when asked if that would represent a “red line,” according to a transcript released late Wednesday. “I have no income from Russia. I don’t do business with Russia.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Trump also expressed dismay with the decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, saying if Sessions had indicated that intention before being nominated then Trump would have “picked someone else.”
“Sessions never should have recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job,” Trump said.
The president further suggested that former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey shared with him a file of alleged, but unconfirmed compromising material about Trump in order to gain leverage.
“In my opinion, he shared it so that I would think he had it out there,” Trump told the Times. He fired Comey in May.
Comey testified before a U.S. Senate committee in June that he privately briefed Trump about the file in January because of the belief the material would soon be publicly reported and that the intelligence community should not keep knowledge of the material from the president-elect.
After Sessions recused himself, his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, appointed another former F.B.I. director, Robert Mueller, as special counsel to carry out the Russia probe. Committees in the Senate and House of Representatives are conducting their own investigations as well.
Trump has repeatedly insisted there was no link.
“I have done nothing wrong. A special counsel should never have been appointed in this case,” he told the Times.
Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law and current White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and his then-campaign advisor Paul Manafort met last year with a Russian attorney who said she had damaging information about Trump’s Democratic opponent in the presidential race, Hillary Clinton.
Trump downplayed the meeting in his interview, calling it “standard political stuff” and reaffirming his stance that he believes most politicians would have taken such a meeting.
Donald Trump Jr. has said the Russian lawyer had no information of value about Clinton and that the talks ended quickly.
When asked about it by the Times, the president said it “must have been a very unimportant meeting, because I never even heard about it.”
Hours after his son set up the meeting in June 2016, Trump said he would soon be giving a major speech focused on Clinton. In Wednesday’s interview, he rejected the idea that the two events were linked, saying he “made many of those speeches.”
“There wasn’t much I could say about Hillary Clinton that was worse than what I was already saying,” Trump said.
While much of the interview focused on the questions about Russia and the campaign, Trump talked about other issues that have emerged during his presidency and declared that the country is “doing well.”
He pledged during his run for office to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system, and after the Republican-held Senate faced several setbacks in recent weeks in efforts to repeal and replace the program put in place under former President Barack Obama, Trump hosted a group of lawmakers for talks Wednesday at the White House.
“If we don’t get it done, we are going to watch Obamacare go down the tubes, and we’ll blame the Democrats. And at some point, they are going to come and say, ‘You’ve got to help us,'” Trump said.
He added that under a Republican plan, Americans will see “major tax cuts, and reform,” which he said is “like a windfall for the country.”
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has evaluated several versions of Republican health care bills, and while the details of each are a little different, generally the CBO projected the plans would save the government several hundred billion dollars over a decade and result in millions of people losing health coverage.
On international issues, Trump criticized Obama for inaction on Ukraine, North Korea and Syria.
Trump said that when Russia annexed Crimea, Obama “allowed it to get away.”
“He didn’t talk tough to North Korea. You know, we have a big problem with North Korea. Big. Big, big,” Trump said.
Obama in 2013 threatened to use force against the Syrian government if it carried out a chemical weapons attack, but never did, as his administration worked with Russia to negotiate an agreement that required Syria to send its stockpiles of chemical weapons out of the country. After a chemical attack blamed on Syrian forces in April, Trump did order airstrikes on a Syrian airfield.
“He didn’t do the shot. I did the shot,” Trump said.