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Trump Holds Joint Appearance With Colombian President

May 18, 2017
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump responded publicly today to the investigation of Russian involvement in last year's election and possible ties to his campaign. Trump called it a witch hunt. He reacted angrily to the Justice Department's appointment of a special counsel to lead that probe, and he insisted there was no collusion between his campaign and any foreign government. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now from the White House. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Trump made these comments during a news conference with the visiting president of Colombia, and this was the first opportunity reporters had to question the president about the many dramatic news stories that have hit the White House this week. Tell us more about his reaction.

HORSLEY: He is somewhat aggrieved. When the special counsel was first announced last evening, the president put out a statement that was really pretty muted for Trump. He said he hoped that the investigation would wrap up quickly. He said it would only show what he insists we already know - that there were no ties between his campaign and Russia. But by this morning, after a bunch of newspaper headlines and TV news morning shows that were dominated by this story, the president's blood pressure started to rise, and he sent out some angry tweets. And you could still hear some of that frustration when he was asked about the special counsel this afternoon.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt. And 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.

HORSLEY: Trump sees this as an unnecessary distraction from the work he says he wants to be doing and also is tarnishing a record which he insists has, you know, really been one of tremendous success so far.

SHAPIRO: Today reporters also tried to get the president on the record about some of the specific allegations against him, including the suggestion that he tried to stop an FBI investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. What did Trump say about that?

HORSLEY: Yeah, this was perhaps the most serious allegation that was raised all week. Associates of the fired FBI director, James Comey, say the president met with Comey back in February one day after he fired Michael Flynn and that Trump told Comey he hoped the investigation of Flynn would go away. Associates say Comey documented that meeting in notes at the time. But here's how the president reacted when he was asked about that this afternoon.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you at any time urge former FBI Director James Comey in any way, shape or form to close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn? And also, as you look back...

TRUMP: No, no - next question.

HORSLEY: And the president also attacked the former FBI director, saying Comey was very unpopular with most people and that he really expected Democrats to welcome his firing. And certainly Comey had irritated both Democrats and Republicans with his handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe last year, but we heard from the acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe last week that Comey is still very respected inside the bureau.

SHAPIRO: This news conference followed a meeting with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. He has been fighting cocaine production in his country. President Trump has made a priority of fighting drug trafficking and organized crime in the U.S. Are the two leaders on the same page here?

HORSLEY: Not exactly. Santos says, you know, the world has been fighting this war on drugs for 40 years now, and it has not yet been won. The U.S. has partnered in the past with Colombia to try to offer both carrots and sticks to the farmers who grow the raw materials for cocaine. But there are real questions about the future of that cooperation with the Trump administration wanting to cut back sharply on all forms of international aid. Santos went on at length about what it will take to effectively combat drug traffickers, and then President Trump offered his own somewhat more one-dimensional solution.

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TRUMP: That was a long and very diplomatic answer to your question. I will say it a little bit shorter. Walls work. Just ask Israel.

HORSLEY: Trump did say that the drug epidemic is poisoning too many people, and he promised he's going to stop it.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Scott Horsley at the White House, thank you.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.