WASHINGTON — President Trump on Friday responded to the Justice Department’s decision to drop criminal charges against his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, by delivering his most extensive and aggrieved remarks on the Russia investigation since the coronavirus paralyzed the nation.
Speaking to Fox News, Mr. Trump praised Attorney General William P. Barr for the dramatic action announced Thursday, which nullified a major case prosecuted by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
Mr. Trump said Mr. Barr had acted wisely in assigning a U.S. attorney to look into the case, in which Mr. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. in 2017 about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to Washington during the 2016 presidential transition. Mr. Trump and his allies had long called Mr. Flynn’s prosecution unjust and said it should be dropped.
“So he came back and he said, ‘This is an innocent man,’” Mr. Trump said of the federal prosecutor, Jeff Jensen of the Eastern District of Missouri.
Mr. Trump said the outcome reflected well on Mr. Barr, who has expressed skepticism of the Mueller inquiry. “He’s the opposite of Robert Mueller, because you look at Mueller — that was purely corrupt,” Mr. Trump said.
“Jeff Sessions was a disaster,” Mr. Trump said, “He was a very average guy.”
The president’s commentary was a kind of flashback to a pre-coronavirus reality — when the Russia investigation and the president’s impeachment dominated the national political discourse. It was the latest sign that Mr. Trump is turning his thinking away from the national effort to contain the virus — which is still spreading, with cases and deaths growing by the day — to other matters, including his re-election campaign.
Mr. Trump made the remarks in a nearly hourlong appearance on one of his favorite Fox News Channel programs, “Fox and Friends.” The pandemic did not come up until nearly 20 minutes into the interview.
Responding to a new round of catastrophic unemployment numbers announced on Friday morning, Trump vowed to restore the American economy quickly as the nation reopens with his strong encouragement even as public health experts strongly caution against too much social and economic activity.
Mr. Trump lamented that the virus had interrupted a period of economic growth, saying that advisers had come to him and said, “Sir, you’ve got to turn it off. We have to close the country.”
“As president, we had the strongest economy in the history of the world, the strongest economy, we’ve ever had,” he said. “We’ll be back, and they’ll be back very soon. And next year we’re going to have a phenomenal year, people are ready to go.”
Mr. Trump said, after prompting, that he would send a rapid-result Abbott Laboratories test kit from the White House’s inventory to the home of his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joseph Biden Jr., if Mr. Biden asked him. Mr. Trump said that would allow his Democratic opponent to “get out of the basement so he can speak,” adding, “every time he talks, it’s, like, a good thing.”
Mr. Trump also added more detail to the story of the White House valet who tested positive for coronavirus. He said that the aide, who is a U.S. Navy service member, had not worked for several days before Tuesday, when he was “in the room” with the president for an unspecified amount of time before discovering that he was carrying the virus. “I don’t think any contact,” Mr. Trump added of his interactions with the aide.
The valet was among staff members who serve the president meals. Mr. Trump said that those staff members have begun wearing masks, although many other White House officials and staff — including the president himself — do not.
During his discussion of the Russia investigation, Mr. Trump also cited an unlikely historical guide in former President Richard M. Nixon, who resigned in disgrace.
“I learned a lot from Richard Nixon, don’t fire people,” Mr. Trump said. “I learned a lot. I study history.”
Mr. Trump allowed that there was “one big difference” between himself and Mr. Nixon, before offering two: “No. 1, he may have been guilty. And No. 2, he had tapes all over the place. I wasn’t guilty, I did nothing wrong. And there are no tapes.”