WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump insisted Thursday that he "won't be involved" in the special counsel investigation into Russian election meddling, even as he warned he could change his mind, blasted his own Justice Department and accused former FBI Director James Comey of lying about Trump's eyebrow-raising trip to Moscow in 2013.
Trump, who has reshaped his legal team while considering whether to be interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller, called the investigation "a disgrace" and excoriated federal agents for executing search warrants on his longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and his onetime campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.
"I am very disappointed in my Justice Department. But because of the fact that it's going on, and I think you'll understand this, I have decided that I won't be involved," the president said in a telephone interview with Fox & Friends. "I may change my mind at some point, because what's going on is a disgrace."
His broadsides came as the Senate Judiciary Committee readied to vote later Thursday on a bill to protect the special counsel position. While the measure enjoys some bipartisan support, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has repeatedly said he will not bring the proposal a vote in the full Senate because he believes Trump has given no signal that he would dismiss Mueller.
Trump has ratcheted up his attacks on the Russia investigation since the raid on the office and hotel room being used by Cohen, who is under federal criminal investigation in New York for unspecified business dealings. Trump again called it "a witch hunt" and insisted there was "no collusion." But much of his vitriol was directed at Comey, whom the president fired last May, an act that led to Mueller's appointment.
Trump laced into Comey as "a leaker" and "a liar." Trump disputed Comey's claim that Comey was told by Trump that he did not spent the night in Moscow during his 2013 trip to Russia to attend the Miss Universe pageant.
"He said I didn't stay there a night. Of course I stayed there," Trump said. "I stayed there a very short period of time but of course I stayed."
Comey last year created a series of contemporaneous memos — some classified, some not — to document his interactions with Trump. He wrote in the memos that Trump repeatedly brought up the allegations contained in an unverified document that explored ties between Trump's orbit and Russia.
Among the most salacious details is that Trump consorted with prostitutes overnight on that trip, a claim Trump has denied. But Comey wrote in the memos that part of Trump's explanation to him for why it could not be true was that he never stayed the night in Moscow.
Flight records and social media posts from that week indicate that Trump did spend at least one night in Russia. Comey told a CNN broadcast that aired Wednesday — and Trump said he watched — that he was always concerned when someone lies to the FBI, particularly if it's something an agent never asked about in the first place, as Comey says he did not in this case.
"It tends to reflect consciousness of guilt as we would say in law enforcement," Comey said. He added: "If they bring things up you didn't ask about, and if they bring it up and make a false statement about it, that's — it's not definitive, but it certainly makes you very concerned about what might be going on there."
Trump denied ever having that conversation with Comey.
"Those memos are about me and they are phony memos," Trump told Fox. He also suggested Comey leaked classified information in the memos.
Read Friday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.