President Donald Trump charged Thursday that the stepped-up probe into whether his campaign colluded with Russia to tilt last year's election was dividing the country.
"I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt," the US leader said when asked about the nomination of a high-powered special counsel to investigate suspected Russian meddling.
"I think it divides the country," he told a joint press conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. "There is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself, and the Russians — zero."
US intelligence suspect that Russian President Vladimir Putin orchestrated a sweeping campaign to tilt last November's vote in the Republican's favour.
Wednesday's nomination by the Justice Department of ex-FBI chief Robert Mueller to head the federal probe into the matter comes as the president stands accused of seeking to stall the investigation.
Those concerns were fuelled by the shock sacking of Mueller's successor as FBI director, James Comey, and by allegations that Trump previously pressured Comey over the probe.
Asked outright whether he had asked Comey — as reported — to drop the investigation into the Russia connections of his sacked national security advisor, Michael Flynn, Trump fired back: "No. Next question."
Trump went on to dismiss as "totally ridiculous" the notion that he himself may have committed a prosecutable — or even impeachable — offense in recent months, as argued by some critics who suspect him of obstructing the FBI's probe.
"We look forward to getting this whole situation behind us," he said, vowing to focus his administration's resources instead on creating jobs, strengthening the military and reforming health care.