President Trump flatly denied Thursday during a joint press conference with Colombian President Juan Manual Santos that he told now-fired FBI Director James Comey to end an investigation into embattled national security adviser Michael Flynn.
"No, no. Next question," said Mr. Trump, asked if he ever told Comey to drop the FBI probe.
The press conference marked Mr. Trump's first news conference in a week of rapid developments for the White House, including reports thatFlynn was under investigation before the president's inauguration, that Mr. Trump , and that fired FBI Director James Comey said in a memo that Mr. Trump asked him to drop the FBI investigation into Flynn. The press conference was also the president's first public appearance after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the appointment of former FBI Director to investigate any ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Mr. Trump said he could "respect" Mueller's appointment, but described the ongoing Russia saga as a "witch hunt."
"Well I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt..." Mr. Trump said, adding that a special counsel appointment "divides the country."
The president also dismissed claims that he has done anything deserving criminal prosecution or impeachment over the last six months.
"I think it's totally ridiculous," Mr. Trump said. "Everybody thinks so. And again we have to get back to working our country properly so that we can take care of the problems that we have. We have plenty of problems. We've done a fantastic job."
Mr. Trump, still under intense scrutiny over his firing Comey, piled on criticism of the former FBI director during the press conference.
The president derided Comey's "poor, poor performance" when he testified before Congress two weeks ago. Comey misspoke in describing the number of emails Clinton aide Huma Abedin forwarded to the laptop of her husband, former congressman Anthony Weiner.
"That was a poor, poor performance - so poor in fact that I believe and you'd have to ask him because I don't like to speak for other people - but I believe that's why the Deputy Attorney General went out and wrote his very, very strong letter," the president said. "And then on top of that, after the Wednesday performance by Director Comey, you had a person come and have to adjust the record which many people have never seen before because there were misstatements made."
Originally, the White House said Mr. Trump fired Comey only after receiving a recommendation to do so last week from Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but Mr. Trump himself later said he was going to fire Comey "regardless" of the DOJ's recommendation. A number of senators told reporters on Thursday, after a meeting with Rosenstein, that Rosenstein was aware Comey was going to be fired before he completed a memo outlining the justification for firing Comey. Rosenstein's memo criticized Comey's handling of the investigation into Clinton's use of a private email server as secretary of state.
Mr. Trump tried to focus on international issues in the press conference, as he prepares to depart for his first foreign trip as president Friday. He praised America's relationship with Colombia, and said he and Santos will work together to end the drug epidemic in the U.S. and respond to the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.
Santos said that, after meeting with Mr. Trump, he had "no doubt" the two countries would continue to support each other. Santos was expected to ask Mr. Trump, who is making cuts to foreign aid, to renew funding to support a peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces.
Follow below for updates of the press conference from earlier.
Trump flat-out denies ever telling Comey to end investigation
President Trump had a very short, decisive answer when asked if he ever asked fired FBI Director James Comey to end the FBI's investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
"No, no. Next question," the president said.
The president also dubbed the question of impeachment "totally ridiculous."
"I think it's totally ridiculous, everybody thinks so," the president said.
He also again mentioned Rosenstein's memo, suggesting that the deputy attorney general wrote his memo in response to Comey's testimony two weeks ago about Russian interference and the presidential election.
Comey, Mr. Trump said, "had the very poor performance on Wednesday. That was a poor, poor performance - so poor in fact that I believe and you'd have to ask him because I don't like to speak for other people - but I believe that's why the Deputy Attorney General went out and wrote his very, very strong letter."
The "entire" Russia saga "has been a witch hunt," Trump says
Mr. Trump, asked if the appointment of former FBI director Robert Mueller to be special counsel on the FBI's Russia investigation, said the entire Russia probe has been a "witch hunt."
"Well I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt," Mr. Trump said.
The president reiterated a comment he made earlier afternoon, saying the appointment "divides the country."
"There is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself and the Russians - zero. I think it divides the country," the president said. "I think we have a very divided country because of that and many other things. So I can tell you that we want to bring this great country of ours together."
The president added that he wants to get back to focusing on issues relevant to the country, like defeating ISIS and creating jobs.
Trump says "we're going to stop" the drug epidemic in America
President Trump in the joint press conference emphasized that Colombia is a key partner in the war against drugs. Part of that fight includes building a border wall, he said.
"The drug epidemic is poisoning too many American lives, and we're going to stop it," Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Trump called his meeting with Santos "productive," as he said future meetings will be.