President Donald Trump reacted sharply to a New York Times report published Friday, which said that after he fired FBI director James Comey, the bureau began to investigate whether Trump was “knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.”
“Are you now or have you ever worked for Russia, Mr. President?” Fox News host – and vocal Trump supporter – Jeanine Pirro asked Trump during a phone interview Saturday night.
“I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked,” Trump replied. “I think it’s the most insulting article I’ve ever had written. And if you read the article, you’d see that they found absolutely nothing.”
The article said, “No evidence has emerged publicly that Mr. Trump was secretly in contact with or took direction from Russian government officials.” But Trump felt the Times’ headline was unfair and went after the “disaster of a newspaper,” a frequent target of his criticisms.
“It was a great insult,” Trump said of the Times article.”It’s a very horrible thing they said, and they’ve gone so far that people that weren’t necessarily believers are now big believers because they said that was a step too far.”
The Times reported that after FBI officials first became suspicious of Trump relationship with Russia during the 2016 campaign but did not initially act, “in part because they were uncertain how to proceed with an inquiry of such sensitivity and magnitude.”
“But the president’s activities before and after Mr. Comey’s firing in May 2017, particularly two instances in which Mr. Trump tied the Comey dismissal to the Russia investigation, helped prompt the counterintelligence aspect of the inquiry,” the Times said, citing unnamed law enforcement officials.
Several critics noted that for all his outrage at the report, the president never answered “no” when Pirro asked if he was working for Russia.
Trump asserted that “I’ve been tougher on Russia than anybody else – probably any other president period,” citing increased U.S. oil production, “which is, obviously, not great for them, because that’s where they get their money for the most part. But many other things.”
While Trump and his supporters tend to see the report as confirmation of a strong anti-Trump bias within elements of the FBI, Democrats say it shows how deep the concerns about the president’s Russian ties run. They assert it underscores the importance of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise argued Trump’s foreign policy record belies theories he is doing the bidding of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“President Trump has taken more steps to stand up against Russia than anybody we’ve seen in a long time,” the Louisiana Republican said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “You’ve seen time and time again with sanctions, with other things, President Trump standing up against Russia.”
“Look at what he’s done with the Ukraine. Russia was running through Ukraine when Barack Obama was president,” but Trump approved the sale of “tank-busting missiles,” which Obama had denied, Scalise said.
Scalise echoed the president’s claim that he was a victim of a “witch hunt.”
“They’ve put no facts on the table to show there’s collusion,” Scalise said.
But Democrats said there were many reasons to be concerned about Trump’s behavior toward Russia.
Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking minority member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, pointed to Trump’s behavior during the campaign when “you had Vladimir Putin policies almost being parroted by Donald Trump.”
“You had Trump say only nice things about Putin. He never spoke ill about Russia. The Republican campaign doctrines softened on Russia and decreased their willingness to defend Ukraine,” the Virginia Democrat said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“I think we all remember when Trump, in his bluster, basically said to the Russians, if you have got more emails, bring them on,” he said. “These are not actions of a traditional president of the United States.”
The Virginia Democrat also cited a July 2018 meeting in Helsinki between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, which he called a “frankly, pathetic, embarrassing encounter where Trump was kowtowing on the world stage.”
Warner added that he was troubled by the news that Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort shared polling data with a Russian agent and that Trump wants to lift sanctions on a Russian oligarch who is close to Putin.
“Why is he so chummy with Vladimir Putin?” asked Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. “This man, who is a former KGB agent, never been a friend to the United States, invaded our allies, threatens us around the world, and tries his damnedest to undermine our elections, why is this President Trump’s best buddy? I don’t get it.”
Durbin and Warner both pointed to reports that Trump tried to conceal details from his meetings with Putin.
“When he takes the interpreters notes and wants to destroy them so no one can see what was said in written transcript, you know it raises serious questions about the relationship between this president and Putin,” Durbin said.