President Donald Trump on Friday called for Russia to rejoin the group of wealthy countries now known as the G-7, and reiterated his stance that he has the legal authority to pardon himself.
The president departed the White House nearly an hour later than planned, taking questions from reporters for nearly 15 minutes in what amounted to a mini-news conference. In calling for Russia to be readmitted to the G-7, Trump acknowledged his proposal “might not be politically correct,” but he declared Russian officials “should be at the negotiating table.”
“We have a world to run,” he said, suggesting a decision to oust Russia from what was the G-8 was a mistake.
“Russia was in it, now Russia’s not in. Now, I love my country. I’ve been Russia’s worst nightmare. … I think [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is probably going, ‘I wish Hillary won’ because you see what I do.”
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He did not elaborate on why he has concluded that, but in the past he and his team have cited his defense budget proposals and actions like providing arms to Ukraine. But Trump’s comments on Russia are sure to raise eyebrows given that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is still investigating whether Trump and his campaign associates colluded with Moscow during the 2016 presidential election.
“Russia should be in this meeting. Why are we having this meeting without Russia being in the meeting?” he said. “I would recommend — and it’s up to them — Russia should be in the meeting. You know, whether you like it or not … we have a world to run. … We should have Russia at the negotiating table.”
As Mueller continues his probe — which also appears to be looking at whether Trump obstructed justice after taking office by firing FBI Director James B. Comey and via other moves — Trump four days ago declared on Twitter that he has the legal authority to pardon himself. That led many congressional Democrats to sharply criticize the president for, in their view, pushing constitutional norms to the brink of a crisis. And GOP members urged Trump to resist the urge to issue a self-pardon.
“I am not above the law,” Trump said Friday, before again claiming an “absolute right” to pardon himself. But as on Monday, he said he has not done anything wrong.
Meanwhile, the president was asked about the indictment of a former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer who was arrested Thursday for lying to the FBI about his contacts with reporters. The department announced on Thursday evening that James Wolfe, who served as director of staff security for the committee, was indicted by a federal grand jury on three counts.
“It could be a terrific thing,” Trump said. “I’m a big, big believer in freedom of the press. But I’m also a believer in classified information has to remain classified.”
He then tried to used Wolfe’s alleged actions to bring up what he said were Comey’s attempts to hinder his campaign and then presidency when he was still running the FBI.
“And that includes Comey and his band of thieves who leaked classified information all over the place,” he said. “I’m a very big believer in freedom of the press, but I’m also a big believer that you cannot leak classified information.”
On Thursday, Trump told reporters he feels “very well prepared” for his summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
“I don’t think I have to prepare that much. It’s about attitude. … It’s about willingness to get things done,” he added. “But I think I’ve been prepared for this summit for a long time.”
“I said I’ve been preparing all my life. I always believe in preparation, but I’ve been preparing all my life,” Trump said on the White House’s South Lawn over the loud hum of Marine One’s engines. “You know, these one-week preparations, they don’t work. Just ask Hillary what happened to her in the debates,” referring to his 2016 presidential campaign opponent.
Trump was en route to a G-7 meeting in Canada amid tensions with close allies like the EU and the United Kingdom and Canada.
“They’re trying to act like, ‘Well, we fought with you in the war.’” he said. “They don’t mention the fact they have trade barriers against our farmers. They don’t mention the fact that they’re charging almost 300 percent tariffs.”
Both Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron say they intend to press the U.S. president hard on his steel and aluminum tariffs, with the latter saying he is prepared to freeze Trump out of the traditional “joint communique” that G-7 members typically sign following a meeting to show solidarity.
About the tensions, the president said, “When it all straightens out, we’ll all be in love again.”
Eric Garcia contributed to this report.