President Donald Trump tried to brush off a question in a recent interview about his associates’ interactions with Russians ahead of and during his presidential campaign by saying it was just “peanut stuff,” despite his earlier blanket denials of any such interactions.
“The stuff you’re talking about is peanut stuff,” Trump said during a Reuters interview published late Tuesday, before pivoting to criticizing his 2016 Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Before he took office and early in the administration, Trump and his senior officials repeatedly denied any contact between members of the Trump campaign team and Russians.
“I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge no person that I deal with does,” Trump told reporters during a February 2017 news conference.
Now, some two years after the 2016 election, court filings, public statements, CNN reporting and reporting from other news outlets show that at least 16 Trump associates had contacts with Russians during the 2016 campaign or transition.
These communications came in the form of face-to-face meetings, phone calls, text messages, emails and video chats.
All of the associates – from former White House officials, to his personal lawyer, to his own son and daughter – deny participating in any “collusion” with the Russians.
In his Reuters interview, the President also signaled that he would use leverage approving legislation over Democrats if they initiated investigations into his actions.
“We’re going to go down one of two tracks. We’re either going to start the campaign, and they’re going to do presidential harassment. Or, we’re going to get tremendous amounts of legislation passed working together. There’s not a third track,” Trump said before reasserting his frequent line, “Look, they’ve been looking for two years about collusion. There’s no collusion.”
The Reuters interview came a day ahead of the sentencing hearing in New York for Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who is expected to be the first member of Trump’s inner circle to receive a significant prison term in connection with special counsel Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Trump, during the Reuters interview, criticized Cohen for cooperating with prosecutors and called for his former personal lawyer to receive a long sentence.
CNN’s Marshall Cohen, Katelyn Polantz and Jeremy Herb contributed to this report.