U.S. President Donald Trump says he has 'never worked for Russia,' in response to reports that raised questions about his ties to President Vladimir Putin, reports which he called a 'big fat hoax.'
Trump's comments to reporters on January 14 at the White House followed a report in The Washington Post that said the U.S. president 'has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details' of his conversations with Putin.
A separate report in The New York Times revealed that the FBI had opened a counterintelligence probe in 2017 into whether Trump was working for Russian interests after he sacked the bureau's director in 2017.
This alleged inquiry was eventually merged into an ongoing criminal probe of Trump's relations with Russia before his election in 2016, led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Speaking outside the White House before departing for New Orleans, Trump called former FBI and U.S. Justice Department officials 'known scoundrels' and 'dirty cops.'
Trump's remarks to the media on January 14 came after he denied in a January 12 interview with Fox News that he had hidden details of his conversations with Putin from administration officials, saying he is 'not keeping anything under wraps,' but did not directly answer the question of whether or not he had worked for Russia.
Citing current and former U.S. officials, The Washington Post said that on at least one occasion, in Hamburg in 2017, Trump took away his interpreter's notes following talks with Putin and instructed that person not to discuss what had transpired with other officials.
Trump also told Fox News that he had 'a great conversation' with Putin during their one-on-one, nearly two-hour meeting in Helsinki in July 2018.
The U.S. president has said the Mueller investigation is 'a witch hunt.'
At least three different congressional committees have also been probing various aspects of Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 election.
The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia engaged in a campaign of hacking and propaganda to sway voters during the election, largely aimed at bolstering Trump's chances at the presidency.
Russian officials have repeatedly denied any such effort.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, and BBC RFE/RL
RFE/RL journalists report the news in 23 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established.
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