President Donald Trump on Friday used a 500-page internal watchdog report issued by the Justice Department to declare himself entirely absolved in Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
But he stopped short of announcing he would move to end the probe, which he’s repeatedly discredited and declared a “witch hunt.”
“I think the report yesterday, maybe more importantly than anything, it totally exonerates me,” Trump said during an impromptu question-and-answer session with reporters at the White House.
“There was no collusion, there was no obstruction,” Trump said. “And if you read the report, you’ll see that.”
The report Trump was referring to actually found no evidence that the prosecutors handling the Hillary Clinton email probe were motivated by politics. But Trump nonetheless insisted the document – released by the Justice Department inspector general – revealed partisan prejudice.
“What you’ll really see is bias against me and against tens of millions of my followers. That is really a disgrace,” he said, surrounded by reporters following an appearance on Fox News.
Earlier in the day, Trump used Twitter to decry messages exchanged between two FBI employees expressing a desire to “stop” him from becoming president.
“Doesn’t get any lower than that!” Trump tweeted, a day after the highly anticipated inspector general’s report was released.
The report chastised FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page for exchanging a series of anti-Trump text messages, asserting they “cast a cloud” over the FBI’s actions. In one, Strzok wrote Page “we’ll stop it,” referring to Trump’s election.
But the report said there was no evidence “to connect the political views expressed in these messages to the specific investigative decisions” that were the subject of controversy, such as allowing immunity agreements or having fact witnesses sit in on others interviews prior to July 5, 2016.
However, the inspector general was troubled by the FBI’s month-long delay in obtaining a search warrant to review emails possibly related to the investigation on former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s laptop in the fall of 2016. The report specifically calls out Strzok’s decision to “prioritize” the Russia investigation over following-up on the laptop issue, leading the report unable to conclude it was “free from bias.”
Strzok’s lawyer, Aitan Goelman, called that conclusion “bizarre,” and said that the delay was caused by a “variety of factors and miscommunications that had nothing to do with Special Agent Strzok’s political views.” He added that “every witness asked by the (inspector general) said that Strzok’s work was never influenced by political views.”
Strzok worked briefly for special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible Russian interference in the 2016 election. But he was removed from that office after other politically charged texts came to light. Thursday’s report did not address whether Strzok’s political views affected the Russia investigation – that is for another report still to come.
Some of Trump’s allies, including his attorney Rudy Giuliani, have suggested the report may be enough to force an end to Mueller’s investigation. But Trump indicated on Friday he was not prepared to suspend the probe, even as he declared it disgraced.
“The problem with the Mueller investigation is that everyone has massive conflicts,” he said. “I think that the Mueller investigation has been totally discredited.”
Trump has lambasted the investigation, saying it amounts to a “witch hunt.” He has questioned the impartiality of the FBI, and raised the specter of a “deep state” out to get him.
Trump also called the report a “total disaster” for former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump fired in May 2017. The report called his actions overseeing the Hillary Clinton email investigation “extraordinary and insubordinate” and flouted the department’s norms – but that Comey was not motivated by political bias.