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Trump denies pressing FBI to drop Michael Flynn investigation

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 18/05/2017 David Jackson
U.S. President Donald Trump listens during a joint news conference with Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos (not pictured) at the White House in Washington, U.S. May 18, 2017. © REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque U.S. President Donald Trump listens during a joint news conference with Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos (not pictured) at the White House in Washington, U.S. May 18, 2017.

WASHINGTON – President Trump on Thursday flatly denied asking ex-FBI Director James Comey to drop his investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and described Democratic talk of possible impeachment as "totally ridiculous." 

Revelations that Comey – whom Trump abruptly fired last week – kept detailed notes of his past meetings with Trump roiled Washington politics this week. Asked if he, as Comey's memos indicate, did indeed press the former FBI director to stop investigating Flynn, Trump cut off the reporter, saying only: "No, no – next question."

One day after the Justice Department appointed a special prosecutor to take over the FBI's investigation into possible collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russia during last year's election, the president denied any personal dealings with Moscow – but appeared to suggest that others may have been involved. 

"There is no collusion," Trump said, but quickly added, "I can only speak for myself."

Trump also curtly dismissed Democratic congressional chatter about the prospect of impeachment for possible obstruction of justice, calling it "totally ridiculous – everybody thinks so." 

These were Trump's first live, televised comments about both reports of the Comey memos and the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel.

Even as Trump said "I respect the move" to appoint a special counsel for the Russia investigation, he insisted "the entire thing has been a witch hunt" that has divided the country and served as a distraction for his administration's agenda.

"We have to get back to running this country really, really well," Trump said at the news conference after meetings with President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia. 

Mueller and his team will oversee the ongoing FBI probe into possible links between Trump campaign associates – including Flynn –and Russians who sought to influence the election through hacking and other forms of sabotage to undermine Democrat Hillary Clinton.

In the morning, Trump took to Twitter on Thursday to denounce the investigation as the "single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history." 

"With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!" Trump tweeted.

It was unclear what "illegal acts" Trump was referring to, though as a candidate he did pledge to appoint a special counsel to investigate his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton's use of private email during her years as secretary of State – a threat he hasn't yet followed up on.

Despite Trump's denunciations on Thursday of the probe, he appeared to accept the decision immediately after it was announced. 

"As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know – there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity," Trump said in a brief statement Wednesday. "I look forward to this matter concluding quickly.  In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country."

The White House was stunned by the announcement, which they learned about less than an hour before the news became public – and after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had already signed the order designating Mueller to lead the Russia probe. Aides agreed to take a low-key approach in the reaction to the news, though some suggested Trump himself dismiss the appointment as unnecessary, which is perhaps what inspired Thursday's tweet reaction.

In the hours after the announcement, the White House said it planned not to answer reporters' questions about the probe and would defer them to the special counsel's office. Though that might be difficult if Trump himself continues to speak out.

The Mueller appointment came little more than a week after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. While Trump criticized Comey's overall performance, Democrats and some Republicans said it looked like the president was trying to shut down the Russia investigation. 

In the news conference Thursday, Trump also said he would appoint a new FBI director soon; he and aides have identified former Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman as a major contender for the slot.

Trump also defended his dismissal of Comey, saying he had done a bad job at the FBI. He said the decision should have had bipartisan support, given Democratic criticism of Comey over his handling of the investigation into presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

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