President Trump said on Wednesday that he would not intervene with the Justice Department’s decision-making process about whether to release the report by the special counsel investigating possible collusion with Russian officials in the 2016 campaign.
“They’ll have to make their decision within the Justice Department,” Mr. Trump said in an Oval Office interview with the website The Daily Caller. “They will make the decision as to what they do.”
He insisted that he had not spoken with Matthew G. Whitaker, the acting attorney general, about the closing days of the inquiry by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.
“I could’ve taken a much different stance. I could’ve gotten involved in this. I could’ve terminated everything. I could’ve ended everything,” the president said.
“I’ve chosen to stay out of it. But I had the right to, as you know, I had the right if I wanted to to end everything,” he added. “I could’ve just said, ‘That’s enough.’ Many people thought that’s what I should do.”
Mr. Trump’s remarks came days after Mr. Whitaker told reporters that he believed the inquiry was nearing its end.
“The investigation is, I think, close to being completed, and I hope that we can get the report from Director Mueller as soon as possible,” Mr. Whitaker said at the end of a news conference about an unrelated case.
Since the special counsel was appointed in May 2017, it has been rare for senior Justice Department officials to comment publicly about the Russia inquiry.
Under Justice Department rules, Mr. Mueller must explain his prosecutorial decisions in a “confidential report” to the attorney general once his investigation has ended. The attorney general must in turn send a report to Congress indicating why the work has been completed, though that can consist of only a brief summary.
But it remains unclear whether the report will ever be publicly released. In his Senate confirmation hearings, Mr. Trump’s nominee for attorney general, William P. Barr, raised the possibility that it might not be.
For weeks, Mr. Trump’s advisers have signaled that they believed that the special counsel’s investigation was almost over, but Mr. Mueller’s team has never given any indication about its timing.
The special counsel is examining whether Trump campaign officials colluded with Moscow during the 2016 election. United States intelligence agencies have said that Russians tried to disrupt the election in support of Mr. Trump, but the president has repeatedly cast doubt on the role that Russia played.
Last week, Mr. Mueller’s team indicted Roger J. Stone Jr., Mr. Trump’s on-and-off political adviser for more than 30 years, and a key architect of the president’s campaign platforms in its early days. The charges included one count of obstruction of justice, one count of witness tampering and five counts of making false statements to Congress.
Mr. Stone quit the Trump campaign in 2015, well before the first primary race votes were cast. But he is the most recent figure connected to the campaign to be charged by the special counsel.
Several campaign associates have been charged with lying to investigators. None have been charged with collaborating with Russians, a point that Mr. Trump’s team repeatedly stresses.