COLORADO SPRINGS — President Trump said that Russia helped get him elected, then abruptly denied it again, all within less than an hour on Thursday, as he raged against the special counsel and sought to counter increasing calls for impeachment.
Even for a president known for contradicting himself, Mr. Trump’s divergent statements before leaving on a trip to Colorado were particularly head-spinning and underscored his fitful responses to the report issued by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Thursday morning while at the White House. While denying any involvement, the president’s comment conceded for once that Moscow not only intervened in the campaign but did so for the express purpose of helping elect Mr. Trump, the consensus conclusion of the nation’s intelligence agencies.
But barely a half-hour later, Mr. Trump emerged on the South Lawn and took it back. “No, Russia did not help me get elected,” he told reporters as he prepared to depart the White House for Colorado Springs. “I got me elected.”
After two years of investigation, Mr. Mueller reported that he could not establish any illegal conspiracy between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia, but he ratified the findings of the intelligence agencies that Moscow made an aggressive effort to tilt the election in Mr. Trump’s favor.
Mr. Trump has been reluctant to fully embrace the intelligence agencies’ findings that Russia was behind the 2016 election interference, but he has consistently argued that he alone was responsible for his unexpected victory. The “Russia hoax,” Mr. Trump has argued, is one fabricated by Democrats who are angry they lost the White House.
The president’s contradictory statements came a day after Mr. Mueller spoke publicly for the first time about his investigation’s findings. The president and his critics had conflicting interpretations about Mr. Mueller’s brief remarks — Mr. Trump and his supporters took them to mean “case closed,” while his critics saw them as a call to impeachment.
During his encounter with reporters outside the White House and in subsequent Twitter posts, Mr. Trump revived personal attacks on Mr. Mueller, asserting that the special counsel should never have been chosen for that position — he was “highly conflicted” — and had failed to get the job he really wanted, F.B.I. director, an accusation addressed and countered in Mr. Mueller’s final report. Mr. Mueller, who previously served as F.B.I. director in two administrations, did not go to the White House looking for a job, Stephen K. Bannon, who was one of the president’s senior advisers at the time, told investigators.
Mr. Bannon, the report said, “recalled telling the president that the purported conflicts were ‘ridiculous’ and that none of them was real or could come close to justifying precluding Mueller from serving as special counsel.” Donald F. McGahn II, who was then Mr. Trump’s White House counsel, likewise considered the supposed conflicts to be “silly” and hardly disqualifying, according to the report.
“I think Mueller is a true Never Trumper,” Mr. Trump said on Thursday. “He is somebody that dislikes Donald Trump, he’s somebody that didn’t get a job that he requested that he wanted very badly, and then he was appointed.”
Mr. Trump has alternated widely in his assessment of Mr. Mueller’s report. When it was first delivered to the Justice Department, the president said, “The Mueller report was great. It could not have been better.” A month later, after a redacted version was released publicly, he called it a “total ‘hit job.’” Just three days ago, during a news conference in Tokyo, he called it “a beautiful report.”
After his early-morning comments, Mr. Trump flew to Colorado Springs, where he addressed the commencement ceremony at the Air Force Academy.