President Donald Trump would not say whether he believed special counsel Robert Mueller should recuse himself from the Justice Department’s probe into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, but he cast the former FBI director’s relationship with his successor, James Comey, as “very bothersome.”
“He’s very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome,” Trump said of Mueller during an interview with Fox News’ “Fox & Friends,” according to early transcript excerpts. The president went on to claim that those leading the federal government inquiry “were all Hillary Clinton supporters.”
Several allies of Trump and right-wing political figures in recent days have publicly called for Mueller’s recusal from the investigation. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, an outspoken supporter of Trump and one-time Cabinet contender, said Saturday on Fox News that “to the degree that Comey’s involved, Mueller, in theory, should recuse himself.” Last week, Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert called on the government to “get rid of” “dirty” Mueller from the investigation.
While Trump did not call for Mueller’s recusal, he sought to cast the connection between him and his mentee, Comey, as troubling, arguing that while “there has been no collusion” on his part, “there has been leaking by Comey.” The former FBI director admitted during his testimony before Congress earlier this month that he had intentionally leaked details of his interactions with Trump in the hopes of prompting an independent investigation.
Mueller, who is leading an independent probe into potential connections between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives, served as the director of the FBI from 2001 to 2013, at which point Comey took on his duties. The president abruptly fired Comey, who was less than four years into a 10-year term and leading the bureau’s investigation into Trump and his associates, in early May.
Others have bristled at the notion of a Mueller recusal, including ethics czar and former chief White House ethics counsel Richard Painter, who responded to calls for Mueller’s recusal from Trump surrogates by saying it would only create “more obstruction of justice if it happens.”
The full interview with Fox News anchor Ainsley Earhardt, featuring the president and first lady Melania Trump, will air Friday morning.