PARISÂ â€“ President Donald Trump Friday brushed aside criticism of his new acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, and said he has not spoken with WhitakerÂ about his opinions on special counsel Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation.
Speaker to reportersÂ on the White House lawn before departing for France, Trump also criticized predecessor Barack Obama and ex-first lady Michelle Obama.
Trump told reporters he really doesn’t know Whitaker, the manÂ he appointed as acting attorney general after Wednesday’s dismissal of Jeff Sessions, a move many lawmakers saw as a potential first step toward getting rid of Mueller.
â€œI donâ€™t know Whitaker,” Trump said, even though media reports have saidÂ the new Justice Department leader has been a frequent visitor to the Oval Office and gets on well with the president.
Trump said Whitaker is “highly thought of,” and is aÂ â€œvery strong person with a very strong personality.” Noting that the Senate once confirmed Whitaker to a Justice Department post, Trump used the occasion to attack Mueller.
â€œMueller was not Senate confirmed,” Trump said. “Why didnâ€™t they get him Senate confirmed?â€
Democratic lawmakers have pointed out that Whitaker has also questioned the legal basis of Mueller’s investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Trump.
While Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, Whitaker has not and his role overseeing the Mueller probe would have broad latitude to limit its scope.
Trump spoke with reporters before heading to Paris for events to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.Â He also plans to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron, and may speak briefly with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In other comments, Trump:
– Responded to first lady Michelle Obama’s statement that she would not forgive Trump for pushing the “birther” conspiracy about her husband by attacking the former president by saying: “Michelle Obama got paid a lot of money to write a book and they always insist you come up with controversy.”
He added, “I’ll give you some back,”Â and proceeded to attack the former president: “I’ll never forgive him for what he did to our United States military by not funding it properly.”
Actually, military spending reductions in earlier years resulted from bipartisan congressional decisions on budget caps.
– Said there “could be” a federal role in vote recounts in Florida for close gubernatorial and Senate races, but did not say what that role may be. He claimed that Broward County, Florida, in particular has a “horrible historyâ€ of recounts.
– Denied that the video released of an interaction between a CNN reporter and an administration aide was distorted by White HouseÂ edits.