President Donald Trump sent shockwaves throughout the country on Tuesday when it was revealed that he fired FBI Director James Comey — a decision the White House said was based on the recommendations of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
In a new interview just two days after Comey’s bombshell dismissal, Trump now says that he was planning to fire Comey even before he received the recommendations from his top Justice Department officials, a seeming contradiction to information released by his own administration.
“He’s a showboat, he’s grandstander, the FBI has been in turmoil,” Trump told NBC News’ Lester Holt in an interview airing Thursday. “You know that, I know that. Everybody knows that. You take a look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil, less than a year ago. It hasn’t recovered from that.”
“I was going to fire Comey. My decision,” Trump also said. “I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.”
After news of Comey’s firing became public, the White House released a letter Rosenstein sent to Trump titled “Restoring Public Confidence in the FBI.” The letter criticized Comey’s decision not to charge former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server, arguing that he overstepped his authority by bypassing then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
“I cannot defend the Director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgement that he was mistaken,” Rosenstein wrote.
Trump seemingly agreed with Rosenstein, according to a copy of the letter he sent Comey, explaining that the FBI chief was unable to “effectively lead the bureau.”
“It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission,” Trump wrote.
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Trump also told Holt that he asked Comey point-blank before his firing whether he was under investigation over alleged ties to Russia, and Comey told the president he was not.
“I actually asked him” if I was under investigation, Trump said, noting that he spoke with Comey once over dinner and twice by phone.
“I said, if it’s possible would you let me know, ‘Am I under investigation?’ Trump told Holt. “He said, ‘You are not under investigation.’ ”
The Washington Post described the exchange as reported by the president as “remarkable, in that he says the FBI director was discussing an ongoing investigation with the president — something Justice Department policy generally prohibits — at the same time Comey was seeking assurances he would remain in his job.”
The FBI is currently investigating possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. On Thursday, acting FBI director Andrew McCabe declined to tell a Senate Intelligence Committee whether he ever heard Comey tell Trump that the president was not a target of their investigation, Reuters reported.
Trump, meanwhile, told Holt that there was no “collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians.”
The president added that he is interested to learn more about their potential interference in the historic election — but he’s confident he would have won regardless of any alleged meddling.
“If Russia did anything, I want to know that,” he said, while simultaneously insisting that “the Russians did not affect the vote.”