By Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and James Oliphant
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he was worried that any statements under oath he provides to Special Counsel Robert Mueller could be used to bring perjury charges against him as part of the probe into Russia’s electoral interference.
In an interview with Reuters, Trump echoed the concerns of his top lawyer in the probe, Rudy Giuliani, who has warned that any sit-down with Mueller could be a “perjury trap.”
The president expressed fears that investigators could compare his statements with that of others who have testified in the probe, such as former FBI Director James Comey, and that any discrepancies could be used against him.
“So if I say something and he (Comey) says something, and it’s my word against his, and he’s best friends with Mueller, so Mueller might say: ‘Well, I believe Comey,’ and even if I’m telling the truth, that makes me a liar. That’s no good.”
Despite his concerns, Trump did not comment on whether he would ultimately agree to an interview with Mueller, who is, among other things, investigating whether Trump’s campaign team colluded with Russians during the 2016 election and whether Trump has obstructed justice in the probe.
Trump also declined to say whether he might strip Mueller of his security clearance, as he did last week to former CIA Director John Brennan, who had repeatedly criticized Trump’s handling of foreign policy and national security issues.
“I haven’t given it a lot of thought,” he said.
Russia has denied interfering in the 2016 U.S. election and Trump has denied any collusion took place.
As he has done almost daily on Twitter, Trump railed against the probe in the Oval Office interview with Reuters, repeatedly calling it a disgrace and arguing that Mueller and other members of his team were biased.
Trump asserted that he retained the power to intervene in the probe, but that he had chosen not to do so for the moment.
His administration, Trump said, was “a smooth-running machine, except in that world. And I’ve decided to stay out. Now I don’t have to stay out.
“I can go in, and I could do whatever — I could run it if I want. But I decided to stay out,” he said. “I’m totally allowed to be involved if I wanted to be. So far, I haven’t chosen to be involved. I’ll stay out.”
Trump has been critical of Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the probe, leaving oversight to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
In the interview, Trump blamed the investigation for hampering his efforts to strengthen the country’s relationship with Russia and for sowing discord among the American public.
He again neglected to blame Russia for interfering in the 2016 election, a conclusion reached by the U.S. intelligence community.
The probe, he said, “played right into the Russians – if it was Russia – they played right into the Russians’ hands.”
(Reporting by James Oliphant, Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Editing by Peter Cooney)