November 16, 2018 / 5:50 PM / a month ago

Trump says he 'easily' answered Russia probe questions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Friday said he had “very easily” completed his written answers for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election, but had not yet submitted them to Mueller’s office.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said he wrote the answers to the questions himself.

“My lawyers don’t write answers. I write answers. I was asked a series of questions. I’ve answered them very easily,” Trump said.

The Republican president did not specify when his legal team would give Mueller his written responses, but a person familiar with the matter told Reuters they likely would be submitted next week. Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, declined to comment.

“I’m sure they’re tricked-up because, you know, they like to catch people,” Trump said, referring to questions that he suggested could be designed to result in perjury charges. “You have to always be careful when you answer, with people that probably have bad intentions. Now, the questions were very routinely answered by me.”

Mueller is investigating whether members of Trump’s campaign conspired with Moscow in the 2016 election and whether Trump has unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe, which has clouded his presidency.

Trump and his lawyers had been in negotiations with Mueller’s team for months over how the president would be questioned as part of the investigation.

Trump’s team agreed to have the president submit written answers to questions relating to Russia’s role in the election, but it is still possible Mueller may press Trump to answer questions on potential obstruction at some point. Another open question is whether Trump will eventually sit for an interview.

Tensions have risen over the probe since Trump last week ousted Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general and named Matthew Whitaker as his replacement on an acting basis. That move gave Whitaker, a Trump loyalist who Democrats have called a “political lackey,” oversight of the Mueller probe.

Mueller already has brought charges against a series of former Trump aides, including his former campaign chairman and his former national security adviser, as well as a number of Russian individuals and entities.

A federal judge on Thursday refused to dismiss criminal charges against Concord Management and Consulting LLC, a Russia company accused by Mueller of funding a propaganda operation to sway the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.

Trump on Friday again called the probe a “witch hunt” and said there was no collusion. Russia has denied any interference.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the "First Step Act" in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, U.S. November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

“There should have never been a so-called investigation, which, in theory, it’s not an investigation of me. But ... as far as I’m concerned, I like to take everything personally because you do better that way,” Trump added.

Democrats and a number of Republicans have raised concerns about Whitaker’s appointment, with a bipartisan group of U.S. senators renewing a push for legislation to protect the special counsel. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has opposed any such legislation.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has said he would seek to lead the Senate panel overseeing the Justice Department next year, on Thursday met with Whitaker and expressed confidence the Russia probe would continue.

Reporting by Jeff Mason and Makini Brice; Additional reporting by Karen Freifeld; Writing by Susan Heavey and Tim Ahmann; Editing by Will Dunham

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