David Smith in Washington
Donald Trump has apparently reversed a commitment to meet the special counsel investigating alleged collusion between his election campaign and Russia, insisting that such an interview “seems unlikely”.
Robert Mueller’s team of investigators has reportedly expressed interest in speaking with the US president in person, potentially in the next few weeks, though no date has been set.
Who is running the Trump-Russia investigations?
But on Wednesday, asked if he is open to meeting Mueller and whether he would set strict conditions, Trump told reporters at the White House: “We’ll see what happens. Certainly, I’ll see what happens. 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.”
The comments implied a U-turn from last June, when the president said he would be “100%” willing to testify under oath about his interactions with James Comey, whom he fired as director of the FBI. He said of Mueller then: “I would be glad to tell him exactly what I told you.”
At Wednesday’s joint press conference with the Norwegian prime minister, Erna Solberg, Trump again protested his innocence with a defence that included the unexpected argument that his defeated election rival, Hillary Clinton, would have played into Russia’s hands by favouring windmills.
He repeated an inaccurate claim that “all” Democrats agree there was no collusion. “And 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 and it was done on the Fourth of July weekend. That’s perhaps ridiculous. A lot of people looked upon that as being a very serious breach and it really was.
“But again, I’ll speak to attorneys. I can only say this: there was absolutely no collusion. Everybody knows it, every committee.”
The president described the Russian investigation as a “phoney cloud” that has hurt the government and as a “Democrat hoax” brought up as an excuse for losing an election the party should have won because they have “such a tremendous advantage in the electoral college”. In fact Clinton’s win by nearly three million in the popular vote did not translate to the electoral college.
Mueller’s team told the White House last month that they are likely to request an interview with the president, the Washington Post has reported. Trump’s lawyers have previously stated their determination to cooperate with Mueller’s requests.
Once again on Wednesday Trump did not criticise Russia’s President Vladimir Putin directly, but he did contend that he is not pursuing policies calculated to please the Kremlin. “I will say this: I am for massive oil and gas and everything else and a lot of energy. Putin can’t love that. I am for the strongest military that the United States ever had. Putin can’t love that.
“But Hillary was not for a strong military and Hillary, my opponent, was for windmills and she was for other types of energy that don’t have the same capacities at this moment, certainly.”
Solberg, meanwhile reiterated Norway’s support for the Paris climate agreement. Trump added the issue had featured little in their discussions but he might be willing to reconsider the US decision to walk away if it can strike a better deal.
“It’s an agreement that I have no problem with but I had a problem with the agreement that they signed because, as usual, they made a bad deal,” he said. “So we could conceivably go back in.”
Trump paid tribute to Norway’s use of hydropower, adding: “I wish we’d do some of that.” Hydropower was long America’s biggest source of renewable energy, according to the group Climate Action, with the Hoover Dam still a notable example, but was overtaken last year by installed wind capacity.
Facing a rightwing backlash over his apparent willingness to accept a path to citizenship for Dreamers, Trump denied if he might sign an immigration deal that does not include funding for a border wall. “Any solution has to include the wall because, without the wall, it all doesn’t work,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the former reality TV host presided over his first cabinet meeting of the year in the cabinet room, where a day earlier he allowed cameras to watch him negotiate immigration with a bipartisan group of senators for nearly an hour. “Welcome back to the studio,” he told journalists.