In his first remarks on special counsel Robert Mueller since his report was turned in Friday, President Donald Trump on Monday offered an opinion in sharp contrast to the past two years of insults he's hurled at both the special counsel and his investigation.
"Do you think Robert Mueller acted honorably?” ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jon Karl asked the president during an event with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. "Yes, he did," Trump responded. Trump has previously described Mueller as “conflicted,” “disgraced” and a “liar.”
Asked at an Oval Office photo-op a few minutes later if he still believed the investigation was a witch hunt, Trump said it ended the way it should have but went on for far too long. Trump added that no other president should have to face an investigation like it ever again.
"It's 100 percent the way it should have been. I wish it could have gone a lot sooner, a lot quicker. There are a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, very bad things, I would say treasonous things against our country," Trump said. "Those people will certainly be looked at. I've been looking at them for a long time and I'm saying 'why haven't they been looked at?' Congress, many of them you know who they are. They've done so many evil things," Trump said.
"I will tell you I love this country. I love this country as much as I can anything -- my family, my country, my God, but what they did was a false narrative. It was a terrible thing. We can never let this happen to another president again. I can tell you that. Very few people I know could have handled it. We can never, ever let this happen to another president again."
Trump also reiterated his view Attorney General William Barr should decide whether to make the full report becomes public.
"Up to the attorney general, wouldn't bother me at all," Trump said, referring to a public release. Trump also said he isn't thinking about pardoning anyone sentenced during the probe.
The summary of the report, submitted to Congress Sunday by Barr, said there was no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Mueller did not come to a conclusion on obstruction of justice, according to Barr's summary, so Barr took that on himself, concluding that the evidence Muller found didn't support a charge, although Barr didn't reveal all that Mueller discovered.
Congressional Democrats continue to demand the full report from Mueller.
Last week, the president told reporters at the White House, "let it come out, let people see it."
The president has claimed "complete and total exoneration" from the report, which White House press secretary Sarah Sanders insisted was justified despite Mueller stating, according to Barr, that his not making a decision on the question did not amount to an exoneration on the matter of obstruction.
Sanders was asked on NBC Monday morning to acknowledge that it was incorrect to say the report is a full vindication for the president.
"Not at all. It is," she said.
"It is a complete and total exoneration, and here's why, because the special counsel, they said they couldn't make a decision one way or the other. The way the process works is then they leave that up to the attorney general. The attorney general and the deputy attorney general went through and based their decision on Mueller's investigation. This wasn't based on just their own ideas and their own thinking. It was based on Mueller's investigation," Sanders said.
Critics, however, rejected Trump's claims of exoneration -- and rejected the notion that Barr was objective in his summary.
"Given Mr. Barr’s public record of bias against the Special Counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report," Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement over the weekend.
Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, criticized Barr's quick turnover of a summary on an investigation that took almost two years and said Barr is likely to be subpoenaed to explain his actions and conclusions.
"We will ask the attorney general to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. We will demand the release of the full report. The American people are entitled to a full accounting of the president's misconduct referenced by the special counsel," Nadler said at a press conference over the weekend in New York district..
In a tweet over the weekend, Nadler described "very concerning discrepancies" within the report and "final decision making at the Justice Department." The report "did not exonerate the President," Nadler tweeted.
Former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, said that while the case on collusion "is closed," on the issue of obstruction of justice, "we're sort of not done."
"It seems to me it was a very close case. Bob Mueller decided not to make a determination about whether or not a charge can be brought, and you only do that if there is substantial evidence of obstruction," Bharara said on ABC's "Good Morning America" Monday.
While it's clear Congress will continue to investigate the questions around obstruction of justice, it remains to be seen whether the president will be receptive to those questions.
Asked on "Good Morning America" if the president was prepared to cooperate with any continuing investigations in the House, one of the president's lawyers, Jay Sekulow, said it would be a waste of taxpayer money, listing off all of the evidence Mueller obtained in the probe that lasted the past 22 months.
“I think the reality is that Congress is wasting the taxpayers' money, frankly, and they should be going about legislating and governing rather than continuing this that is a prerogative they have,” Sekulow said. “I think at this point it’s ridiculous to put people through this.”
Trump went as far as to call the entire investigation an "“illegal takedown that failed" on Sunday. Trump made the claim despite Mueller having been appointed as special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein after the president's own decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey, who was leading an investigation into possible Trump campaign's ties to Russia. Trump and congressional Republicans have claimed that there was wrongdoing in the way the investigation was carried out.
Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway aired those grievances Monday morning, sharing sharp criticism of those who "let this lie fly for two years, hanging and harrassing and trying to embarass -- and worse -- those of us connected to the 2016 campaign." Those critics now owe Trump, his family and the country an apology, Conway said on Fox News.
Conway specifically called out Rep. Adam Schiff, a critic of the president and a Democrat who heads the House Intelligence Committee.
"He ought to resign today," Conway said. "He has been on every TV show 50 times a day for practically the last two years promising Americans that the president would either be impeached or indicted."
Conway also previewed the way the administration will seek to use the Mueller report in the face of upcoming Congressional investigations, despite almost two years spent escalating attacks on the investigation and Mueller as biased and a witch hunt.
"Bob Mueller already ran the fair and the full investigation. And any partisan, politicized investigation from here on in will never have the credibility of the Mueller investigation, and the credibility of Attorney General Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein -- what they have done here," Conway said.