U.S. President Donald Trump declared Tuesday "collusion is not a crime," as he continued his attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into links between between his 2016 campaign and Russia.
Trump echoed comments by one of his lawyers, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, about collusion not specifically being an offense in the U.S. legal code. Trump added that it "doesn't matter," because his campaign had not colluded with Russia.
Even without collusion being a criminal offense, U.S. legal analysts say Mueller is likely investigating a possible conspiracy, a criminal offense, to connect with a foreign government to influence the election and probing numerous ties Trump campaign aides had with Russian interests. Trump has reluctantly acknowledged Russian interference in the election, but has called the investigation "a big hoax" to explain his upset victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Trump's comments on collusion came on the first day of the trial of his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, accused by Mueller of hiding millions of dollars in offshore accounts that he had been paid for representing deposed Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovych in the years before his short tenure leading Trump's 2016 campaign.
Testimony at the expected three-week trial in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, could only peripherally touch on the Trump campaign. But its outcome is being watched closely since it is the first case brought by Mueller's legal team that has gone to trial. If convicted, the 69-year-old Manafort, accustomed to a lavish lifestyle, faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison, a theoretical sentence of 305 years.
Mueller, 14 months into his probe, has secured guilty pleas from a handful of Trump aides for lying to investigators about their links to Russia and indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officials for allegedly hacking into the computers of Democratic officials supporting Clinton and releasing their emails through WikiLeaks.
Giuliani told CNN on Monday that it remains unlikely that Trump will agree to answer questions from Mueller about Russian interference in the election and whether the president obstructed justice by trying to thwart the investigation.
"The odds are against it, but I wouldn't be shocked, because he wants to do it," Giuliani said.
Giuliani said, however, that if Trump does sit for an interview he would only agree to answer questions about whether his campaign colluded with Russia to help him win, not questions, except in a very limited way, about obstruction.
Trump fired James Comey, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in May 2017 as he was leading the agency's Russia investigation before Mueller was named to take over the Russia probe.