THURMONT, Md. (AP) — President Donald Trump said Saturday that "everything I've done is 100 percent proper" regarding the special counsel's investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and he insisted that his campaign didn't collude with Moscow or commit any crime.
His team has been "open" with special counsel Robert Mueller and "done nothing wrong," Trump told reporters at Camp David, where he was meeting with Republican congressional leaders and Cabinet members to discuss legislative strategy in the new year.
He bemoaned the unrelenting focus on alleged Russia ties, saying the probe is "very, very bad for our country. It's making our country look foolish and this is a country that I don't want looking foolish, and it's not going to look foolish as long as I'm here."
A number of news outlets, including The Associated Press, have reported that Trump directed his White House counsel to tell Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to withdraw from the Justice Department's investigation into potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Sessions' decision to step away prompted Mueller's appointment.
Trump told reporters at Camp David that The New York Times story first reporting the request was "way off, or at least off," — though he wouldn't say how.
He added: "Everything that I've done is 100 percent proper. That's what I do, is I do things properly."
Despite his anger over Sessions' withdrawal from the investigation, Trump said he stands by the embattled Sessions, a vocal and loyal supporter of his election bid.
The investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia already includes a close look at whether Trump's actions as president constitute an effort to impede that investigation. Those actions the firing of FBI Director James Comey, an allegation by Comey that Trump encouraged him to end an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the president's role in drafting an incomplete and potentially misleading statement about a 2016 meeting with Russians.
The latest revelation, that Trump directed White House counsel Don McGahn to tell Sessions not to step aside from the Russia investigation, is known to Mueller's investigators, who have interviewed many current and former executive branch officials.
Three people familiar with the matter confirmed to The Associated Press that McGahn spoke with Sessions just before he announced his recusal to urge him not to do so. One of the people said McGahn contacted Sessions at the president's behest. All three spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid publicly discussing an ongoing investigation.
It remains unclear whether Mueller's team has evidence to establish that the president's collective actions were done with the corrupt intent needed to prove obstruction of justice.
Trump and his lawyers have repeatedly maintained that he did nothing improper and that, as president, he had unequivocal authority to fire Comey and to take other actions. They may also argue that the president was empowered to want the attorney general he appointed to oversee the Justice Department's Russian meddling investigation or, as McGahn contended to Sessions, that there was no basis or reason at that time for the attorney general to recuse himself.
In stepping aside from the probe on March 2, Sessions said it was not appropriate for him to oversee any investigation into a campaign of which he was an active supporter, though the recusal also followed the revelation that he had had two previously undisclosed interactions during the 2016 campaign with the Russian ambassador to the United States. At his January confirmation hearing, he had said he had had no meetings with Russians
Sessions' recusal left Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in charge of the Russia investigation. But once Trump fired Comey two months later, Rosenstein appointed Mueller, the former FBI director, to run the investigation and to report to him.
Four people, including Flynn and Trump's former campaign chairman, have been charged so far in the investigation.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Chad Day contributed to this report.