WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump is dismissing news reports suggesting he is beholden to Russia and President Vladimir Putin or hiding accounts of his private talks with the Russian leader the five times they have met, including at their July summit in Helsinki.
Asked directly late Saturday by Fox News talk show host Jeanine Pirro whether he is now or has ever worked for Russia, Trump said, “I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked.”
The U.S. leader said, “If you ask the folks in Russia, I’ve been tougher on Russia than anybody else, any other — probably any other president period, but certainly the last three or four presidents, modern day presidents. Nobody’s been as tough as I have from any standpoint.”
Trump was reacting to a report in The New York Times that Federal Bureau of Investigation officials started investigating whether he “was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence” because they were so alarmed by Trump’s behavior after he fired former FBI chief James Comey in May 2017 when he was leading the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“It’s a very horrible thing they said…,” Trump said. “They really are a disaster of a newspaper.”
Virginia Senator Mark Warner, the leading Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee that has been investigating Trump campaign links with Russia, told CNN on Sunday that at times Trump has “almost parroted” Putin’s policies.
“It’s a very real consideration” whether Trump is a willing agent of Russia, Warner said, especially considering information that surfaced last week that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort shared Trump campaign polling data in 2016 with a former business associate of his that U.S. investigators believe had ties to Russian intelligence.
Another key Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, told ABC News there are “serious questions” about why Trump is “so chummy” with Putin.
Earlier, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in a statement that in the coming weeks his panel “will take steps to better understand both the president’s actions and the FBI’s response to that behavior. There is no reason to doubt the seriousness or professionalism of the FBI, as the president did in reaction to this story.”
Trump also assailed The Washington Post’s new account that he has gone to extraordinary lengths to hide details of his conversations with Putin over the last two years. On one occasion, the newspaper said Trump took possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructed the linguist to not discuss what had transpired with other Trump administration officials.
The newspaper said that incident occurred after Trump and Putin met in Hamburg in 2017, a meeting also attended by then-U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Trump’s most high-profile meeting with Putin occurred in Helsinki, where the two leaders met for two hours behind closed doors with only their interpreters listening in. No official accounts of their talks have been released, but Trump told Pirro there was nothing to hide about their discussions and could release a transcript.
“Well Jeanine I would, I don’t care,” Trump said. “I had a conversation like every president does. You sit with the president of various countries, I do it with all countries. We had a great conversation. We were talking about Israel and securing Israel and lots of other things. And it was a great conversation. I’m not keeping anything under wraps, I couldn’t care less. I mean, it’s so ridiculous.”
He added, “Anybody could have listened to that meeting, that meeting is up for grabs.”
Trump’s first two years in office have been consumed by the now 20-month investigation whether his 2016 campaign colluded with Russia to help him win and whether, as president, Trump obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe by special counsel Robert Mueller, who took over the investigation after Trump ousted Comey.
Shortly after Trump dismissed Comey, he told NBC news anchor Lester Holt that he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he decided to fire the FBI chief, saying that he felt the investigation was created by Democrats dismayed that Trump had upset former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to win the White House.
Mueller is believed to be nearing the end of his investigation and is expected to write a report on his findings.
Trump has often assailed the Mueller probe, telling Pirro, “You know, the whole Russia thing, it’s a hoax. It’s a terrible hoax.” Trump has denied that his campaign colluded with Russia or that he has obstructed justice.
But Mueller and other federal prosecutors have won convictions or secured guilty pleas from key figures in Trump’s orbit, including Manafort, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign aide Rick Gates, foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and his one-time personal attorney, Michael Cohen, among others.