Trump backtracks on Mueller meeting, resurfaces misleading Clinton claim
Facing questions from the press, President Donald Trump appeared to backtrack on a previous commitment he made to meet face-to-face with investigators probing his campaign’s possible ties to Russia.
That same day Trump resurfaced dubious claims about the investigation into former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state.
Here are the newsy statements Trump made during a Jan. 10 joint press conference with Norway’s prime minister, along with key context.
Trump has given contradictory answers to the question of whether he will have a formal sit-down with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
To recap, Mueller’s appointment as special counsel in May came with broad jurisdiction. He is authorized to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, its possible links to the Trump campaign, and "any matters that may arise directly from the investigation."
Leading Democratic lawmakers believe Mueller is investigating Trump in part over his firing of FBI Director James Comey, which Trump said was motivated by the Russia investigation.
A month after his firing in May, Comey testified on Capitol Hill that Trump had requested the FBI director’s loyalty, which Comey said he declined. The ousted FBI director also told lawmakers Trump had asked him to drop the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
A day after Comey’s testimony, Trump said on June 9 that he was "100 percent" willing to talk under oath to Mueller.
"I would be glad to tell him exactly what I just told you," Trump added during an event at the White House.
Trump has since backtracked on meeting with Mueller as the special counsel’s investigation escalated dramatically in the intervening months.
Asked during a Jan. 10 joint press conference if he is still willing to meet with Mueller, Trump’s answer shifted dramatically.
"We'll see what happens. I mean, certainly I'll see what happens," he said. "But when they have no collusion and nobody's found any collusion at any level, it seems unlikely that you'd even have an interview."
In addition to flip-flopping about a Mueller meeting, Trump returned to talking about his former presidential rival Clinton and her exclusive use of a private email server while secretary of state.
Trump emphasized the circumstances around Clinton’s interview with the FBI, which took place at the end of a lengthy FBI investigation, and a day before Comey recommended that no criminal charges be filed, despite finding Clinton had been "grossly negligent" in handling of classified information.
"When you talk about interviews, Hillary Clinton had an interview where she wasn't sworn in. She wasn't given the oath. They didn't take notes. They didn't record," Trump said. "That is perhaps ridiculous, and a lot of people looked upon that as being a very serious breach. And it really was."
Trump’s claims about the nature of Clinton’s interviews lack important context. He make it sound as if Clinton’s interview occurred under suspicious circumstances when in fact it didn’t.
Trump is right that Clinton’s FBI interview was not done under oath. But as Comey explained in a July 7 congressional hearing, the FBI needs a referral from Congress to administer an oath, which it lacked in Clinton’s case. But whether an oath is given or not, it is a crime to lie to the FBI.
Comey made that point in the hearing when asked about the lack of oath: "It’s still a crime to lie to us."
Trump is also correct that the FBI did not make an audio recording her interview. But that’s because the FBI, as a matter of policy, generally doesn’t record its interviews, not because of preferential treatment toward Clinton.
Trump’s claim that there were no notes of the interview is wrong. Following an FBI interview, the bureau summarizes the discussion in a memo known officially as FD-302 form and colloquially as "302s." Comey mentioned in his congressional testimony that just such a memo had been compiled about Clinton’s testimony.