As special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian collusion of the 2016 election continues on, President Donald Trump has one big question on his mind.
“Whatever happened to Podesta?” “They closed their firm, they left in disgrace, the whole thing, and now you never heard of anything,” the president said during a wide-ranging New York Times interview.
Trump was referring to Tony Podesta, the founder of The Podesta Group and brother of former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Like members of Trump’s presidential campaign, Podesta has also found himself at the center of Mueller’s growing FBI inquiry.
During The Times interview, the president said he believed Muller would treat him fairly, but he also expressed frustration that Podesta has seemingly escaped scrutiny since stepping down from the firm he founded in October.
The long-time Democrat is under investigation for activities similar to those of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Manafort, having a long history of lobbying for foreign entities, led a public relations campaign for a nonprofit called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine. Podesta Group also took part in promoting Ukraine in the United States, being one of several firms that were paid to do public relations work, according to Politico.
His group filed paperwork with the Justice Department indicating that it had worked on behalf of the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, benefiting the same Ukrainian political party that Manafort advised. In late October, Manafort was indicted on an array of charges that included money laundering, failing to disclose overseas bank accounts, operating as an agent of the Ukrainian government and making false statements to federal authorities.
Trump severed ties with Manafort during the election as it became apparent law enforcement was looking into him. The president has since tried to put distance between himself and the beleaguered lobbyist.
“Paul only worked for me for a few months,” he explained.
“Paul worked for Ronald Reagan. His firm worked for John McCain, worked for Bob Dole, worked for many Republicans for far longer than he worked for me. And you’re talking about what Paul was many years ago before I ever heard of him. He worked for me for — what was it, three and a half months?”
Podesta, for his part, has not endured much public scrutiny since stepping down from his firm a couple months ago and it’s not exactly known what action federal authorities will take regarding his investigation. Along with believing that more attention should be placed on Podesta’s past lobbying activities, the Republican president spoke at length about the FBI investigation that has haunted his first year in the White House.
Pushing back against their allegations, the president said that Democrats concocted claims of Russian collusion “as a hoax, as a ruse, as an excuse for losing an election.” Trump also asserted that “everybody knows” his 2016 campaign staff did not collude with any Russian officials and even reversed the accusations by suggesting Democrats were the ones who worked with Russians during the presidential election.
Around seven months have passed since Muller was appointed to lead an investigation, but no charges have yet been brought forward against the president.
“There’s been no collusion. But I think he’s going to be fair,” Trump said of Mueller.