President Donald Trump reiterated his position that he had no contact with Russia during the 2016 presidential election campaign during a May 18 press conference.
The president's comments came one day after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as an independent counsel to oversee the inquiry into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, Politico reports.
"Believe me, there's no collusion," Trump said at the White House. "Russia is fine, but whether it's Russia or anybody else, my total priority, believe me, is the United States of America."
While Trump initially spoke on behalf of his campaign, he later shifted from that.
"There is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself, and the Russians, zero," he added.
Trump emphasized his view on the matter later in the press conference.
"Even my enemies have said, there is no collusion," Trump said.
The president also indicated his acceptance of Mueller's appointment, saying, "I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt."
Reuters released a report on May 18 alleging that there had been 18 unreported instances of contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russian sources. However, the report provided limited detail, stating that the contacts had been with officials and "others with Kremlin ties," according to The Hill.
"The people who described the contacts to Reuters said that they had seen no evidence of wrongdoing or collusion between the (Trump) campaign and Russia in the communications reviewed so far," the report states.
Reuters also pointed out that contacts between a presidential campaign and foreign officials are not unusual.
Liberal advocacy groups are less convinced by Trump's assurances.
"This latest move by the Trump administration is too little, too late," Charles Chamberlain of Democracy for America said of the Mueller appointment, according to The New York Times. "We cannot afford to have Congress sit back and watch this play out the same way it just did, with Trump and his stooges obstructing another investigation into their corruption and high crimes. Congress needs to act now to impeach Trump."
Liberal campaign groups are planning nationwide protests, known as "impeachment marches," for July 2. One organization conditionally supporting the impeachment call is MoveOn.org, which sent an email to its subscribers on May 17 urging activists to tell Congress to impeach the president "if news reports are true."
Most congressional Democrats have not gone so far.
"No one ought to, in my view, rush to embrace the most extraordinary remedy that involves the removal of the president from office," Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California said.