WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump acknowledged for the first time on Thursday that Moscow helped him win the White House in 2016 — before retracting himself to launch a fiery attack on Robert Mueller and the Russia probe.
“Russia, Russia, Russia! That’s all you heard at the beginning of this Witch Hunt Hoax,” Trump tweeted, in an outburst against Special Counsel Mueller’s suggestion that Congress impeach him for obstructing the two-year investigation.
“And now Russia has disappeared because I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected,” Trump said.
It appeared to be the first time that Trump accepted claims by US intelligence chiefs that Russian government meddling aided his stunning upset victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Shortly afterwards he sought to walk back the admission, telling reporters as he left on a trip to Colorado that Russia “if anything, helped the other side”, or Clinton.
“Russia did not get me elected. You know who got me elected? I got me elected,” he said. “Russia didn’t help me at all.”
His outburst came a day after Mueller — in his first public comments on the investigation he was named to lead in May 2017 — said it had established there “were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election”.
Mueller also reiterated that the investigation found evidence of attempts to obstruct his investigation by Trump. “If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that,” he said.
But he said he was blocked from charging the president by Justice Department regulations and indicated that it is up to Congress to launch impeachment proceedings to determine if Trump committed a crime.
“When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable,” Mueller said.
Trump in response slammed Mueller as conflicted and said the investigation had produced no evidence against him.
“Robert Mueller should have never been chosen,” to lead the probe, he told reporters on Thursday.
“I think he is a total conflicted person. I think Mueller is a true never-Trumper.”
Asked about a growing clamour in Democratic ranks for the launch of impeachment proceedings against him, Trump called it “presidential harassment”.
On Wednesday Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in Congress, said in a statement that Congress would step up investigations, while studiously avoiding the word impeachment. “The Congress holds sacred its constitutional responsibility to investigate and hold the President accountable for his abuse of power,” she said.
Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2019