President Trump called the appointment of a special counsel to investigate his campaign's ties to Russia a "witch hunt" that "hurts our country" Thursday in his first public, non-Twitter comments on the situation. "I believe it hurts our country terribly, because it shows we're a divided, mixed-up, not-unified country," CNN quotes Trump as saying during a luncheon with TV news anchors. He placed blame on Democrats wanting to discredit his election victory. During a press conference later, Trump denied urging former FBI director James Comey to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn. He added that "everybody" says it's "ridiculous" to think he's done anything criminal, denying any collusion between himself and Russia.
Elsewhere, senators held a closed-door briefing with Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, after which Sen. Lindsey Graham said he believes the investigation into Russian collusion is "now considered a criminal investigation." The Hill reports two Democratic senators say Rosenstein said he knew Comey was going to be fired before writing a memo recommending the firing. And in an exclusive report, Reuters states FBI and congressional investigators are looking at 18 phone calls and emails between Russian officials and Flynn and others in the Trump campaign. These communications were previously undisclosed.