WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump lashed out Wednesday at former special counsel Robert Mueller, accusing him without evidence of committing a crime by deleting text messages exchanged by two former FBI officials who had expressed disdain for the president.
“Robert Mueller terminated their text messages. He terminated them. They’re gone,” Trump said. “And that’s illegal. That’s a crime.”
His comments during a wide-ranging interview with Fox Business Network came a day after Democratic House leaders announced that Mueller had been subpoenaed to testify publicly next month about his investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and possible obstruction of justice by Trump.
The hearing might be brief. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-California, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said their portion — which will be followed by a briefing with the Intelligence Committee — would have a two-hour limit. Other congressional aides, though, suggested that the precise parameters could change. And no matter the case, the potential spectacle seemed to irk the president.
“It never ends,” Trump said during the interview when asked about the hearings. “We have no obstruction. We had no collusion.”
A lawyer listed for Mueller on the House subpoena has not responded to requests for comment, nor have senior aides in the now-defunct special counsel’s office.
In his comments accusing Mueller of a crime, Trump was referring to FBI agent Peter Strzok, who played a major role in the early stages of the investigation into Russian interference, and FBI lawyer Lisa Page. The two — whom Trump referred to as “pathetic lovers” — had an affair.
“Here’s the problem,” Trump said. “Robert Mueller, they worked for him; the two lovers were together, and they had texts back and forth. Mueller terminated them illegally … He terminated all of the stuff between Strzok and Page.”
A report made public in December said that the Justice Department inspector general could not recover texts from the phones assigned to Strzok and Page for their work with Mueller because by the time investigators requested the devices, they had been reset in preparation for others to use them.
The report detailed glitches that complicated the inspector general’s ability to recover and review messages exchanged during a five-month period ending the day Mueller was appointed.
But the inspector general wrote there was “no evidence” that Strzok and Page “attempted to circumvent” the FBI’s data-retention policies, and the “content of the text messages did not appear to be a factor” in whether and how they were retained.
The report also makes no mention of Mueller playing any role in the deletion of texts.
Strzok was removed from Mueller’s team in July 2017 — and ultimately fired from the FBI last year — after the communications were discovered. Page separately left the team and later the bureau.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, said his committee would hear from Mueller first on July 17, followed by the Intelligence Committee in a separate room.
“I think it will have a profound impact,” Nadler said. “Just if he says what was in the report, and says it to the American people so they hear it, that would be very, very important.”
Nadler characterized the hearings as a way of countering what he called a “campaign of disinformation” led by Attorney General William Barr that “subjected” the country “to months of deception as to what was in the report.”
“Attorney General Barr … deceived the American people about what was in the report,” Nadler said. “The president joined in when he strategically said ‘no collusion no obstruction,’ which is not what the report found.”
Nadler also stressed that “the Russians attacked our democratic election with the goal of helping Trump win the election.”
“The Trump campaign welcomed that help, and that’s the words of the report,” Nadler said.
Nadler said he did not know if Mueller’s testimony would extend beyond the content of the report and said it is possible the White House might try to suppress his testimony.
“They may attempt to. I doubt that they would succeed, because Mr. Mueller is an honest man who understands that … congressional subpoenas are not optional,” Nadler said. “I suspect that whatever the White House says … Mueller will not try to force the subpoena in court.”
He added that the panel might meet with other members of Mueller legal team outside the scheduled hearing. The House Intelligence committee is expected to follow their public hearing with Mueller with a closed-door session with such members of Mueller’s staff.
Washington Post writer Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.