President Trump said Friday he’s even more convinced that special counsel Robert Mueller’s “rigged” investigation on Russia is hurting the U.S. relationship with Moscow, after watching portions of disgraced FBI agent Peter Strzok’s testimony to Congress.
“After watching the man that was testifying yesterday, I’d call it the rigged witch hunt,” Mr. Trump said at a press conference in England, bemoaning that the difference in time zones prevented him from seeing much of the stormy House hearing.
As he prepares to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday in Helsinki, Finland, Mr. Trump said of the special counsel’s probe, “we’re being hurt very badly by the rigged witch hunt. I think that really hurts our country.”
“It really hurts our relationship with Russia,” Mr. Trump said.
Lawmakers grilled Mr. Strzok Thursday in a hearing about text messages to his lover in the FBI that he would “stop” Mr. Trump’s election in 2016. He had been a top investigator on Mr. Mueller’s probe, but was removed after the text messages were uncovered.
Mr. Trump also said Friday that he doesn’t expect Mr. Putin to confess to meddling in the U.S. presidential election when they meet next week.
“There won’t be a ‘Perry Mason’ here, I don’t think,” the president said, referring to the old TV drama in which the guilty party often broke down and confessed under questioning in a courtroom. “I don’t think you’ll have any ‘Gee, I did it, I did it - you got me.’ But I will absolutely, firmly ask the question.”
He said he will “go in strong” to the meeting because of the commitments he secured this week from NATO allies for greater military spending. His demands for higher defense alliance spending produced some contentious moments at the NATO summit.
The president blasted an NBC reporter, Kristen Welker, who asked Mr. Trump if he was giving Mr. Putin “the upper hand,” because Mr. Trump was “challenging these alliances that he seeks to break up?”
“That’s such dishonest reporting, because, of course it happens to be NBC, which is possibly worse than CNN,” Mr. Trump said. “Let me explain something. We have left NATO with more money, with more unity, with more spirit than NATO has probably ever had.”
He said of Mr. Putin, “The headline he sees isn’t what’s happening during the morning [at the NATO summit], the headline he sees is what happened in the afternoon, where we came together as one. They’re putting up billions of dollars more. Do you think Putin’s happy about that? I don’t think so.”
Asked if he will raise with Mr. Putin the issue of Russia’s illegal seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, Mr. Trump again blamed his predecessor for failing to stand up to Moscow.
“President Obama failed very badly with Crimea,” Mr. Trump said. “I don’t think he [Mr. Putin] would have done that if I were president. This was an Obama disaster. I’ve taken over a lot of bad hands, and I’m fixing them one by one.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May said of the upcoming meeting with Mr. Putin, “What is important is that the president goes into this, as he is doing, from a position of strength and also from a position of unity in NATO.”
The president said at the news conference with Mrs. May in Buckinghamshire, England, that he will talk to Mr. Putin about Ukraine, Syria, Middle East, nuclear proliferation and meddling.