WASHINGTON — President Trump insisted on Thursday that there was no collusion between his presidential campaign and Russian officials.
Mr. Trump, speaking in the East Room of the White House, said he respected the appointment of a special counsel to investigate ties with Russia.
“But the entire thing has been a witch hunt,” he said. “And there is no collusion between, certainly, myself and my campaign — but I can always speak for myself — and the Russians.”
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The president also said the questions surrounding his campaign and Russia were divisive.
“I think it divides the country,” Mr. Trump said. “I think we have a very divided country because of that and many other things.”
The president then pivoted to listing what he called the achievements of his administration, from creating jobs to restoring America’s standing in the world, and noted he was embarking Friday on the trip to the Middle East.
Mr. Trump reiterated his vow to stamp out the drug trade and to build a wall on the border with Mexico. Standing next to President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia in the East Room, Mr. Trump noted that coca leaf production in his country was at record levels, despite Colombia’s efforts to crack down on drug trafficking.
Mr. Santos looked for areas of common ground, noting the cooperation between Colombia and the United States in fighting drugs. “We believe in the same principles of freedom, democracy and the rule of law,” he said.
Mr. Trump also had lashed out earlier on Thursday, saying he was the target of an unprecedented witch hunt, a day after the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to investigate ties between his presidential campaign and Russian officials.
In a pair of early morning tweets, Mr. Trump cited, without evidence, what he called the “illegal acts” committed by the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and the campaign of his former opponent, Hillary Clinton — and said they never led to the appointment of a special counsel.
“With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel appointed!” Mr. Trump wrote, initially misspelling counsel.
Moments later, Mr. Trump added, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”
The tweets, shortly before 8 a.m., were a stark contrast to his muted reaction to the announcement on Wednesday evening that Robert S. Mueller III, a former F.B.I. director, had been named to investigate ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
In a statement released by the White House, the president said: “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. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly.”
How Mr. Trump should respond to the appointment was the subject of brief, but lively debate in the Oval Office, several senior officials said, with most of the president’s aides counseling a conciliatory tone. Mr. Trump often takes his most combative stances early in the morning on Twitter.
The president is correct in his observation about the rarity of a special counsel, though his references to the Clinton campaign and the Obama administration may not bolster his case. There were multiple congressional investigations of the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and the role played by Mrs. Clinton, then the secretary of state, and Mr. Obama.
It is not the first time Mr. Trump has likened the questions about his campaign and Russia to a witch hunt. In January, while still president-elect, he said in an interview with The New York Times that the persistent focus on Russia’s hacking of the American presidential campaign was a witch hunt carried out by people bitter at his victory over Mrs. Clinton.
Mr. Trump’s sense of grievance over the Russia investigations had been deepening even before the naming of a special counsel. During a commencement address at the United States Coast Guard Academy on Wednesday, the president abruptly diverted from his uplifting theme to complain that “no politician in history” had been treated “more unfairly” than him.
“You will find that things are not always fair,” he told the graduates. “Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.”
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