WASHINGTON - In his first televised face-to-face interview in six weeks, President Donald Trump said it is “very bothersome” that the man leading the probe into possible ties between his campaign and Russia is friends with former FBI Director James Comey.
Trump told Fox News Channel's “Fox and Friends” that special counsel Robert Mueller is “very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome.”
The president also suggested Mueller may have to step down at some point, saying “we'll have to see” three times when asked if Mueller should recuse himself from the probe. Trump said he was concerned that Mueller had retained lawyers who had previously contributed to Democrats.
The Associated Press reports that Comey and Mueller are not known to be close friends, though, just because they served together in the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration. Former federal prosecutor David Kelley says Mueller and Comey haven't visited each other's homes and rarely shared a meal together.
Legal experts say their connection does not come close to meriting Mueller's removal as special counsel.
White House comment
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters later Friday while the president “retains the authority” to fire Mueller, “he has no intention of doing that.”
Mueller, the FBI director before Comey, was appointed special counsel by the Justice Department to lead the investigation after Trump fired Comey, who was leading the Russia investigation at the time he was ousted. Mueller and several congressional committees are investigating Russian meddling in last year's election aimed at helping Trump win, and whether he obstructed justice.
For months, the president has dismissed the probes into Russian interference in the election, calling them a “witch hunt” and saying they are an excuse by Democrats to explain Clinton's defeat.
One day after saying he does not have tapes of private conversations with Comey, the president told Fox he always told a “straight story.”
The president has disputed Comey's claim that Trump asked the FBI director for a vow of loyalty during a private meeting. When Comey's account was publicized, Trump tweeted that Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.”
House committee action
On Friday, Republican Representative Mike Conaway, who is leading the House Intelligence Committee's investigation of the Russia probe, said Trump's tweet was not a sufficient response.
Adam Schiff, the committee's top Democrat, said in a statement Thursday that Trump's Twitter comment stopped short of denying that the White House had tapes or recordings, and said the White House must respond in writing.
Representatives for the two congressmen did not respond Friday to questions about whether the White House had met a June 23 deadline to provide the materials to the committee.
Spicer said at a daily news briefing on Friday that the administration would respond.
Trump also expressed hope that House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi remains in her leadership position because it is beneficial to Republicans.
“I hope she doesn't step down,” he said. “It would be a very sad day for Republicans if she steps down.”
Trump cited this week's Republican victory in a special congressional election in the southeastern state of Georgia. Republican-funded campaign advertisements linked Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff with Pelosi, who often is criticized by Republicans for representing what they consider extremely liberal points of view.
Pelosi has been facing questions about her leadership since Democrats lost the hard-fought race.
The interview, conducted Thursday at the White House and aired Friday morning, comes as Trump considers reducing the number of media briefings to once per week and requiring reporters to submit written questions in advance.