Trump made a revealing, off-the-cuff comment that could explain why he hasn't fired Mueller

  • President Donald Trump told The New York Times in an interview that the Russia probe had strengthened his base and prompted members of Congress to defend him.
  • The remark could partially explain why Trump has not tried to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.
  • "I think it’s been proven that there is no collusion," Trump said.

President Donald Trump told The New York Times in an interview published on Thursday that the investigation into potential collusion between his campaign team and Moscow had strengthened his base and prompted some "great congressmen" to begin "pointing out what a witch hunt the whole thing is."

Trump told The Times that he did not intend to fire Mueller, whom he expected would treat him "fairly."

FLASHBACK: Reactions to Mueller's appointment 

Reaction to Robert Mueller's appointment to Russia investigation
See Gallery
Reaction to Robert Mueller's appointment to Russia investigation
Trump statement
My statement on DAG Rosenstein's decisions to appoint a special counsel
.@SpeakerRyan Statement on the Appointment of Special Counsel
Appointment of special counsel is very positive. Mueller is a solid choice who will help reestablish public confide…
Robert Mueller’s appointment is a positive step. I am hopeful that he will help us get to the bottom of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
A special counsel is very much needed in this situation and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein has done the right thing.
(1/2) I support the appointment of Bob Mueller as special counsel for the Russia investigation.
(2/2) Bob Mueller was a great U.S. attorney & FBI director. He’s respected, talented and has the knowledge & ability to do the right thing.
Having known him for years, I believe special counsel Mueller is a very good thing. He is one of the best -- indepe…
Mueller is a great selection. Impeccable credentials. Should be widely accepted.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder on appointment of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel in Trump/Russia affair:
"He has the expertise and experience, and the guts and backbone to uncover truth," Sen. Blumenthal says of Robert M…
Mueller is a good first step -- but can't take the place of an independent commission free from Trump's meddling.
I commend @TheJusticeDept for taking the appropriate step of appointing a special counsel.
Robert Mueller's appointment as special counsel is a positive step. My statement:
Senator Collins’ statement on appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel #mepolitics
Murphy statement on appointment of special prosecutor for investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia
My full statement on the appointment of Special Counsel to oversee #TrumpRussia investigation…
Mueller does not erase the need for an independent commission. #ProtectOurDemocracy
.@RonWyden's statement on the appointment of special counsel
Here's my statement on appointment of a special counsel to lead FBI Russia investigation:
My statement on the appointment of a #SpecialCounsel to investigate the troubling #TrumpRussia ties:
I’m encouraged to see @TheJusticeDept has appointed a special counsel to lead the investigation into #TrumpRussia
Mr. Mueller is a man of integrity and well chosen. Must ensure he has resources necessary for a rigorous investigation #SpecialCounsel
Bob Mueller is a man of integrity. I have every confidence he will pursue this investigation and follow the facts,…
The issue of Russian meddling in our election must be investigated fully & former FBI dir. Mueller is well qualified to oversee this probe.

But his remark about how the investigation had galvanized his supporters indicates that Trump may have taken firing Mueller off the table — for now — because he is aware of, and confident in, his allies' ongoing campaign to undermine and discredit the special counsel.

"Virtually every Democrat has said there is no collusion," Trump told the newspaper.

He continued:

"There is no collusion. And even these committees that have been set up. If you look at what’s going on — and in fact, what it’s done is, it’s really angered the base and made the base stronger. My base is stronger than it’s ever been. Great congressmen, in particular, some of the congressmen have been unbelievable in pointing out what a witch hunt the whole thing is. So, I think it’s been proven that there is no collusion."

The most recent attacks on the FBI by Trump and his supporters began after news surfaced that the DOJ's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) discovered text messages exchanged by FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page during the campaign that expressed disdain for Trump and other political leaders.

Strzok, a veteran counterintelligence agent, was among those overseeing the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's private email server last year. He and Page and were also members of Mueller's team, but Strzok was removed in late July after the texts were discovered, and Page left for unrelated reasons.

A senior Justice Department official and his wife, meanwhile, have come under fire for their reported ties to Fusion GPS — the opposition research firm that funded the collection of memos outlining alleged Trump-Russia collusion known as "the dossier." The official, Bruce Ohr, was recently reassigned.

There is no evidence so far that these revelations have impacted the public's perception of either Mueller or the Russia probe. A CNN poll released earlier this week found that more Americans approve of how Mueller is handling the investigation than disapprove.

But the incidents have fueled GOP lawmakers' calls for FBI Director Chris Wray to either clean house or for Mueller to resign.

Putting the Trump-Russia timeline into perspective
See Gallery
Putting the Trump-Russia timeline into perspective
June 7: The 2016 primary season essentially concludes, with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as the presumptive party nominees
June 9: Donald Trump Jr. — along with Jared Kushner and former campaign chair Paul Manafort — meets with Kremlin-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
June 9: Trump tweets about Clinton's missing 33,000 emails
July 18: Washington Post reports, on the first day of the GOP convention, that the Trump campaign changed the Republican platform to ensure that it didn't call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces
July 21: GOP convention concludes with Trump giving his speech accepting the Republican nomination
July 22: WikiLeaks releases stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee
July 25: Democratic convention begins
July 27: In final news conference of his 2016 campaign, Trump asks Russia: "If you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing"
August 4: Obama CIA Director John Brennan confronts his Russian counterpart about Russia's interference. "[I] told him if you go down this road, it's going to have serious consequences, not only for the bilateral relationship, but for our ability to work with Russia on any issue, because it is an assault on our democracy," Brennan said on "Meet the Press" yesterday.
October 4: WikiLeaks' Julian Assange says his organization will publish emails related to the 2016 campaign
October 7: WikiLeaks begins releasing Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta's emails
October 7: Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence release a statement directly saying that Russia is interfering in the 2016 election
October 31: "This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove," Trump says on the campaign trail
November 4: "Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks," Trump says from Ohio.

Republican Rep. Francis Rooney said Tuesday that he wants to see the upper ranks of the FBI purged of politically motivated agents who he believes are working for "the deep state."

Another Florida congressman, Rep. Matt Gaetz, has alleged that Mueller and his team are staging a "coup d'etat" against Trump. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan has called the FBI "corrupt" and claimed recently that the bureau was "putting together a plan" last year "to keep Donald Trump from becoming the next president of the United States."

Jordan said earlier this month that he'd been in touch with the White House about Mueller. Gaetz, the first lawmaker to openly demand Mueller's firing, discussed the special counsel's investigation with Trump aboard Air Force One earlier this month ahead of a rally in Florida.

Rep. Ron DeSantis, a House Judiciary Committee member who put forward a provision in August that would have severely limited the scope and funding of Mueller's investigation, was also on the flight with Gaetz and Trump.

GOP Rep. Andy Biggs recently slammed Mueller's "unlimited reach" and "unvetted hires," accusing the special counsel of making "blatantly partisan hires that place the direction of his probe under a cloud of suspicion" and calling on him to "step aside."

Republican Sen. Rand Paul tweeted last week that it was "time to investigate high ranking Obama government officials who might have colluded to prevent the election of @realDonaldTrump! This could be WORSE than Watergate!"

NOW WATCH: Fox News' Tucker Carlson — a registered Democrat — explains why he always votes for the most corrupt mayoral candidate

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SEE ALSO: There's one 'obvious question' that could derail Trump's defense strategy against Flynn

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