WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump insisted Thursday that he "won't be involved" in the special counsel investigation into Russian election meddling, even as he warned that he could change his mind, blasted his own Justice Department and accused former FBI Director James Comey of lying about Trump's trip to Moscow in 2013.
Trump, who has reshaped his legal team while considering whether to be interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller, called the investigation "a disgrace" and excoriated federal agents for executing search warrants on his longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and his onetime campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.
"I am very disappointed in my Justice Department. But because of the fact that it's going on, and I think you'll understand this, I have decided that I won't be involved," the president said in a telephone interview with Fox & Friends. "I may change my mind at some point, because what's going on is a disgrace."
Trump also hinted in the interview that he may get more deeply involved in the management of the Justice Department, saying he tries to "stay away from" intervening in the department before adding "But at some point I won't." It was unclear to what exactly the president was referring -- or threatening -- in his comments.
His broadsides came just before the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance a bill to protect the special counsel position. While the measure enjoys some bipartisan support, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has repeatedly said he will not bring the proposal to a vote in the full Senate because he believes Trump has given no signal that he would dismiss Mueller.
Trump has ratcheted up his attacks on the Russia investigation since the raid on the office and hotel room being used by Cohen, who is under federal criminal investigation in New York for unspecified business dealings. Trump again called it "a witch hunt" and insisted there was "no collusion." But much of his vitriol was directed at Comey, whom the president fired in May, an act that led to Mueller's appointment.
Trump laced into Comey as "a leaker" and "a liar." And he disputed Comey's claim that Comey was told by Trump that he did not spend the night in Moscow during his 2013 trip to Russia to attend the Miss Universe pageant.
"He said I didn't stay there a night. Of course I stayed there," Trump said. "I stayed there a very short period of time but of course I stayed."
Comey last year created a series of contemporaneous memos -- some classified, some not -- to document his interactions with Trump. He wrote in the memos that Trump repeatedly brought up the allegations contained in an unverified document that explored ties between Trump's orbit and Russia.
Among the most salacious details is that Trump consorted with prostitutes overnight on that trip, a claim Trump has denied. But Comey wrote in the memos that part of Trump's explanation to him for why it could not be true was that he never stayed the night in Moscow.
Flight records and social media posts from that week indicate that Trump did spend at least one night in Russia. Comey told a CNN broadcast that aired Wednesday -- and Trump said he watched -- that he was always concerned when someone lies to the FBI, particularly if it's something an agent never asked about in the first place, as Comey says he did not in this case.
"It tends to reflect consciousness of guilt, as we would say in law enforcement," Comey said.
Trump denied ever having that conversation with Comey.
"Those memos are about me and they are phony memos," Trump told Fox. He also suggested Comey leaked classified information in the memos. Comey has denied the accusation.
Information for this article was contributed by Catherine Lucey, Zeke Miller, Chad Day and Mary Clare Jalonick of The Associated Press and by Ashley Parker and John Wagner of The Washington Post.
A Section on 04/27/2018
Print Headline: Trump won't engage in probe, he says