U.S. President Donald Trump contended Sunday he "never asked" former Federal Bureau of Investigation chief James Comey to stop investigating his one-time national security adviser Michael Flynn about his contacts with Russia's ambassador to Washington.
Trump said Comey, whom he fired last May when he was heading the FBI's investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 U.S. presidential election to help Trump win, lied when he testified to Congress in June that Trump had said to him, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."
Trump's Twitter remark came two days after Flynn pleaded guilty in Washington to lying to FBI agents about conversations he had with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak a year ago in the weeks before Trump assumed power in January.
In a string of tweets, Trump attacked the mainstream news media with his "Fake News" epithet and Comey for his probe last year of Trump's defeated Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton, for her handling of classified material channeled through her private email server when she was secretary of state.
"After years of Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation [and more], running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters - worst in History!" Trump said. "But fear not, we will bring it back to greatness." He also attacked the FBI for its use of an agent in the Clinton investigation who had written emails favoring Clinton in the election. The agent was dropped from the probe after the emails were discovered.
"Now it all starts to make sense!" Trump said.
Trump claimed that stock investors had lost "many millions of dollars" on Friday because of a "False and Dishonest" report by ABC News that Flynn would testify that Trump had directed him to make contact with Russian officials while Trump was still a candidate. ABC corrected the report and suspended the reporter for the erroneous story.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is conducting a criminal investigation of Russian interference in the election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow.
In addition, Mueller is probing whether Trump obstructed justice in asking Comey to curb his investigation of Flynn and then later by firing Comey before Mueller was appointed by a top Justice Department official to take over the Russia probe. Trump, in May, said he was thinking of "this Russia thing" when he ousted Comey and has long argued the focus on Russia's involvement in the election is an excuse by Democrats to explain Clinton's upset loss.
Trump fired Flynn after 24 days in the key White House job when wiretaps showed he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the content of the conversations he had with Kislyak. But in a tweet Saturday, Trump, in a remark written by one of his lawyers, John Dowd, said, "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!"
The tweet suggested the president knew Flynn had lied to the FBI, as well as the vice president, about his Russians contacts. Trump had not mentioned the FBI before in his tweets about Flynn and the Russians.
It is against U.S. law to lie to the FBI, which is what Flynn acknowledged doing in his guilty plea.
He faces up to five years in prison, but as part of his plea agreement, said he would cooperate with Mueller's ongoing investigation of the Trump campaign, the transition to power and the early months of his presidency. If prosecutors view Flynn as cooperative, they could recommend to the judge deciding Flynn's sentence that it be limited. U.S. sentencing guidelines say the average sentence for the offense ranges from no prison time to six months.
Earlier Saturday, in his first remarks since Flynn entered the guilty plea, Trump said there was "absolutely no collusion" between his presidential campaign and Russia.
"What has been shown is no collusion, no collusion," Trump said as he left the White House for New York.
Flynn is the fourth member of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign to be charged by Mueller’s team and the first former White House staff member to plead guilty in connection with the Russia investigation.
On October 30, Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign chairman, and Rick Gates, another senior campaign official, were charged in a 12-count indictment unrelated to the Russia investigation, chiefly related to their lobbying for Ukraine.
Another Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, secretly pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian government and is cooperating with the special counsel as well.