In a lengthy and wide-ranging interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, President Donald Trump blasted former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference, refused to rule out pardons for indicted campaign aides, lavished praise on several House Republicans and declared the media to have “become totally unhinged."
Trump called into Hannity's primetime show Thursday night and talked for nearly 25 minutes with the host, who acts as his informal adviser, in his first one-on-one interview since Mueller's highly-anticipated public testimony before Congress on Wednesday. The president spent most of the interview disparaging the former special counsel's investigation. He called it a "disgrace to our country" and a "fake witch hunt" that "should never be allowed to happen in our country again."
The president's criticism came a day after Mueller appeared before the House Judiciary and Intelligence panels to discuss his nearly two-year investigation into Russian election interference, alleged ties between Trump's 2016 campaign and Moscow and whether the president himself obstructed justice.
Some Democrats hoped Mueller's appearance would bolster their investigations into whether the president tried to obstruct justice, while other party members hoped his testimony would boost public support to launch impeachment proceedings against Trump. Republicans, on the other hand, hoped the special counsel's testimony would confirm their assertions that the special counsel's investigation was illegitimate and politically-motivated.
Mueller, who remained mum throughout his 22-month investigation, delivered nearly seven hours of dry testimony. He was extremely cautious, lawyerly and refused to step into the fray of partisan politics, depriving Democrats of potentially useful sound bites of him discussing some of the most politically damaging material he uncovered aloud and dodged questions from Republicans seeking to discredit his investigation.
In his interview with Hannity, Trump called Mueller's performance "shocking and very sad."
"I think a lot of people learned yesterday — watching a very poor performance and watching things that they couldn't believe when they saw what was going on," he said. "It was a disgrace to our country, it was a disgrace from every standpoint and I would say that most people have never seen anything like that."
Trump said he did not have time to watch the entire hearing but said he "got to watch enough, and it was shocking." He noted that Republicans "represented themselves brilliantly" and applauded GOP Reps. John Ratcliffe and Louie Gohmert of Texas, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Devin Nunes of California for their particularly aggressive questioning of Mueller.
"The good side of all of this is the level of intelligence and strength and goodness that we've had on the Republican Party," he said. "The country has had tremendous support from Meadows, and Jordan and Devin Nunes. And so many of the names that you saw yesterday performed so well. I mean, they performed so well, and they worked so hard because they saw this was a scam. This was an illegal takeover, as you would say in the business world. I mean, this was a coup attempt, in my opinion.”
During the hearings Wednesday, Mueller reiterated the conclusions of his investigation and made clear his investigation did not exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice. He argued that his his probe was not a "witch hunt," as the president and Republicans in Congress have argued. Despite Mueller's pushback, Trump hasn't changed his tune.
"This should never happen to another president in the United States again," he said. "This is an absolute catastrophe for our country. This was a fake witch hunt, and it should never be allowed to happen to another president again."
Trump argued the Democrats "created this phony crime" by accusing him of obstruction of justice.
"I didn't do it. They created a phony crime," he said. "And then, they say, 'He obstructed.' They said, ‘There was no collusion, but he obstructed.' And there has never been anything like this ever in this country."
Mueller did not reach a conclusion as to whether Trump obstructed justice, repeatedly citing guidelines from the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that prevent a sitting executive from being indicted as something that from the onset of his investigation prevented him from even considering an indictment.
When asked by lawmakers Wednesday whether his findings truly exonerated the president, Mueller answered: "No." He also said Trump could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice crimes after he leaves office.
In his final report, Mueller detailed ten instances of possible obstruction by Trump, including one in which Trump instructed former White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller in the summer of 2017 because of alleged "conflicts of interest." McGahn declined to do so, according to the report, deciding he would "rather resign than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre."
Trump has disputed McGahn's account several times. He claimed last month that he "was never going to fire Mueller" and never even "suggested firing" him.
"I don't care what [McGahn] says — it doesn't matter," Trump added at the time.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler said his panel will go to court this week to obtain requested grand jury material connected to Mueller's probe and to enforce a subpoena issued to former McGahn, who previously defied a subpoena to testify before the panel at Trump's direction. The Judiciary committee voted to hold McGahn in contempt of Congress in response.
Trump on Thursday reiterated his desire to "investigate the investigators" over the origins of the special counsel's probe and said Attorney General William Barr would be "looking into it."
He also said the press "has lost all credibility," adding, "I've never seen anything like it. . . . The media has become totally unhinged. They are very dishonest."
Hannity then asked Trump if he would extend his pardon power to former national security adviser Michael Flynn and other members of his inner circle that were charged with crimes in Mueller's probe. Early Mueller's investigation, Trump reportedly asked aides about his ability to pardon those implicated in the probe, including his family members, and asserted his "absolute right to PARDON myself."
"Well, I don't want to comment as far as the pardons are concerned," Trump said. "I feel good about giving [pardons], where people have been treated unfairly and abused, actually, but I haven't talked about it with respect to what's going on now."