WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump has no intention of firing the special counsel investigating charges of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, even though he questioned the official's impartiality in an interview, the White House said on Friday.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters that while Trump "retains the authority" to dismiss special counsel Robert Mueller, "he has no intention of doing that."
Trump voiced concern in a TV interview on Fox News on Friday about what he said was the close relationship between former FBI Director James Comey and Mueller, who was named to take over the Russia investigation after Trump fired Comey.
"He's very, very good friends with Comey, which is bothersome," Trump told Fox News. "Look, there has been no obstruction. There has been no collusion. There has been leaking by Comey."
Lawmakers investigating allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election have raised questions about whether Comey's May 9 firing was an attempt by Trump to stop the Russia probe.
While White House officials have said the firing was due to concerns about Comey's actions at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Trump told an interviewer the Russia investigation was one of his concerns in taking the action.
But the president insists his campaign did not collude with Russia and that his firing of Comey did not obstruct justice.
"There's been no collusion, no obstruction and virtually everybody agrees to that," Trump told Fox, adding that Mueller "is an honorable man and hopefully he'll come up with an honorable solution."
Russia denies it meddled in the U.S. presidential election.
In excerpts from a separate interview, Trump criticized President Barack Obama for inaction in the face of Russian meddling.
"Well I just heard today for the first time that Obama knew about Russia a long time before the election, and he did nothing about it," Trump said, according to excerpts from a Fox News interview to be broadcast on Sunday.
In congressional testimony on Wednesday, Jeh Johnson, who headed the Homeland Security Department under Obama, said his department had warned about hacking into voter databases.
When asked why the Obama administration did not do more to warn the public, he said: "We were very concerned that we would not be perceived as taking sides in the election, injecting ourselves into a very heated campaign." [nL1N1JI0TQ]
Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by the Washington Newsroom; Editing by Paul Simao and Cynthia Osterman