Trump’s weekend: New Russia questions, shutdown irritants

WASHINGTON (AP) – It wasn’t the weekend that United States (US) President Donald Trump wanted: largely alone at the White House, irked by a pair of startling Russia headlines and baffled that he’s not getting more credit for staying put during the partial government shutdown.

Trump surprised his aides by deciding, with just a few hours’ notice, to call in to Jeanine Pirro’s show on Fox News on Saturday night to push back against coverage of his presidency on multiple fronts, particularly published reports about his approach toward Russia.

Even then, the president avoided directly answering when Pirro asked whether he currently is or has ever worked for Russia. The question came after The New York Times reported that law enforcement officials began investigating, in 2017, whether Trump had been working on behalf of Russia against US interests. The newspaper said the investigation came after the president’s firing of FBI Director James Comey.

“I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked,” Trump told Pirro, a personal friend. “I think it’s the most insulting article I’ve ever had written, and if you read the article you’ll see that they found absolutely nothing.”

Trump went on to assert that no president has taken a harder stance against Russia than he has. “If you ask the folks in Russia, I’ve been tougher on Russia than anybody else, any other … probably any other president, period, but certainly the last three or four presidents,” he said.

White House aides expressed regret that the President did not more clearly and forcefully deny being a Russian agent when asked by the usually friendly Fox News host, according to three White House aides and Republicans close to the White House. The three spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss private conversations.

Trump also objected to a report in The Washington Post that said he went to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin even from high-ranking officials in his own administration. The report cited unnamed current and former US officials.

In the Fox News interview, Trump questioned why the newspaper made such a “big deal” out of his discussions with Putin in Helsinki last summer. “Anybody could have listened to that meeting, that meeting is up for grabs.”

The Russia reports came as Trump plays up his presence at the White House during the standoff with Democrats over funding for his long-promised wall at the US-Mexico border.