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Donald Trump, the US president, declared on Monday that he has "never" worked for Russia as he hit out at reports that he was investigated by the FBI over alleged ties to the Kremlin.
It came after he refused to say "no" when asked if he was working for Russia in a Saturday night interview, instead saying: "I think it's the most insulting thing I've ever been asked".
On Monday morning Mr Trump said: "I never worked for Russia… I think it’s a disgrace that you even ask that question because it’s a big fat hoax."
Mr Trump's comments followed a New York Times report over the weekend that the FBI's senior officials became so concerned by the president's behaviour they began investigating why he was taking steps that appeared to benefit Russia and were against American interests.
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) January 14, 2019
The fact that the FBI is investigating whether Mr Trump obstructed justice by firing Mr Comey has long been public knowledge, but these are the first claims of a wider investigation into the president and his motives.
According to the NYT, counterintelligence officers looked into whether the president’s actions posed a potential threat to national security and whether Mr Trump was knowingly acting in Russia's interests or had unwittingly fallen under its influence.
Mr Trump described the FBI leaders who launched the probe as "known scoundrels". He added: "I guess you can say they are dirty cops."
It is not clear what conclusions the FBI probe reached and what its status might be now.
The Fake News gets crazier and more dishonest every single day. Amazing to watch as certain people covering me, and the tremendous success of this administration, have truly gone MAD! Their Fake reporting creates anger and disunity. Take two weeks off and come back rested. Chill!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 14, 2019
Speaking outside the White House, Mr Trump told reporters that it was good to have strong relationships with Russia, China and India. "I have relationships with almost everybody and that's a good thing not a bad thing," he said.
In a separate development on Monday, CNN said it had obtained transcripts of two FBI officials' closed-door interviews with the US Congress interviews which appeared to confirm that the FBI leadership looked at whether Mr Trump fired the Mr Comey "at the behest of" Russia.
According to document seen by CNN, James Baker, the FBI's top legal adviser at the time, told congressmen that the FBI officials were considering whether Mr Trump was "acting at the behest of [Russia] and somehow following directions, somehow executing their will."
"That was one extreme. The other extreme is that the president is completely innocent, and we discussed that too," Mr Baker told an investigation by the House of Representatives last year.
"There's a range of things this could possibly be. We need to investigate, because we don't know whether, you know, the worst-case scenario is possibly true or the president is totally innocent and we need to get this thing over with - and so he can move forward with his agenda."