Trump says he didn’t collude with Russia, ominously notes he ‘speaks for himself’

Is Trump preparing to throw his aides under the bus?

CREDIT: MSNBC screengrab
CREDIT: MSNBC screengrab

The first thing President Trump was asked during his news conference with Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos on Thursday was for a response to the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia.

Trump reiterated his position, which he expressed in a tweet earlier in the day, that the Russia scandal is a “witch hunt.” But he went on to make a distinction between himself and embattled former aides like Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn.

“There is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself and the Russians — zero,” Trump said.

Trump’s language was imprecise, so his exact intended meaning was unclear. But by saying he was speaking “for myself,” Trump was less than definitive about whether collusion may have occurred between Russia and his campaign aides.

Trump’s comments on Thursday represented a shift from his language when the topic came up earlier this year. On January 16, Trump told reporters, “I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.” Exactly one month later, Trump said almost the same thing during a news conference.

“I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge no person that I deal with does,” he said. “Now, Manafort has totally denied it. He denied it. Now people knew that he was a consultant over in that part of the world for a while, but not for Russia. I think he represented Ukraine or people having to do with Ukraine, or people that — whoever. But people knew that. Everybody knew that.”

The next month, the Associated Press broke news that Manafort “secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics.”

At another point during Thursday’s presser, Trump unequivocally denied that he ever asked former FBI Director James Comey to shut down an investigation of Flynn, who lost his job as national security adviser after he was exposed for lying about his pre-inauguration communications with the Russian ambassador.

Trump’s denial contradicts a memo Comey prepared that details a conversation he had with Trump in the Oval Office shortly after Flynn’s ouster in February.

The New York Times, citing two people who have read the memo, reported on Tuesday that it says Trump asked the then-FBI director to shut down the Flynn investigation, telling him, “I hope you can let this go.”

On Wednesday, the Times reported that Flynn told Trump transition officials he was under FBI investigation weeks before he was installed as national security adviser. He got the job anyway, and kept it for weeks even after the Trump administration was informed Flynn’s lies might’ve left him vulnerable to Russian blackmail. Flynn was fired only after leaks made his deception public knowledge.

Trump’s latest comments came on the same day as a Reuters report that Flynn and other Trump campaign advisers “were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race.”