U.S. President Donald Trump appears on stage at a rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Picture: REUTERS
U.S. President Donald Trump appears on stage at a rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Picture: REUTERS

Washington — President Donald Trump said on Thursday that while the investigation into possible ties between his campaign and Russia made the US "look very bad", he believed special counsel Robert Mueller was "going to be fair" in his inquiry.

The comments, made in an interview with the New York Times at his West Palm Beach golf club, come even as fellow Republicans have argued that the Mueller investigation is tainted by anti-Trump bias within the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

"There’s been no collusion. But I think he’s going to be fair," Trump said.

While the president did not call for an immediate end to the investigation, he said that "the sooner it’s worked out, the better it is for the country".

Earlier this month, Republican legislators seized on text messages, meetings and campaign contributions by members of Mueller’s investigative team to argue that those involved favoured Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

Some of the Justice Department employees who worked on the investigation of Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state — which ultimately concluded with a recommendation against criminal charges — were later detailed to the Trump inquiry.

"Justice Department investigations must not be tainted by individuals imposing their own political prejudices," House judiciary chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia said earlier this month. "We are now beginning to understand the magnitude of this insider bias on Mueller’s team."

Trump told the Times he was curious about the special counsel’s handling of lobbyist Tony Podesta, the brother of Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. Podesta worked with one-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on his lobbying efforts in Ukraine, which were central to a 12-count indictment against Manafort and a business associate issued earlier this year.

Tony Podesta stepped down from his Washington lobbying firm amid questions about his ties with Manafort. Podesta has not been charged with a crime.

But the president sidestepped a question as to whether he would order the Justice Department to reopen an investigation into Clinton’s use of the private e-mail server.

"I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department," he said. "But for purposes of hopefully thinking I’m going to be treated fairly, I’ve stayed uninvolved with this particular matter."

In the Times interview, Trump expressed regret that attorney-general Jeff Sessions had recused himself from the Russia inquiry.

Asked whether he thought former president Barack Obama’s first attorney-general, Eric Holder, had been more loyal to his president than Sessions had been to him, he refused to say, but said Holder had "totally protected" Obama.