President Donald Trump has admitted that former FBI Director James Comey’s persistent pursuit of investigations into allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives was partly the reason why he decided to fire him. Trump admitted in an interview on NBC News on Thursday that he fired Comey because of “this Russia thing” after he continued the Russia investigation despite having assured Trump that he was not being investigated.
In an interview with Lester Holt on NBC News on Thursday, Trump admitted that persistent allegations of collusion between his campaign aides and Russian officials played a role in his decision to dismiss the FBI director. He admitted that the decision to fire Comey was influenced by ongoing FBI investigation of the allegations. Trump also claimed in the interview that Comey had assured him on three occasions that the FBI was not investigating him over the alleged links with Russia. Trump said he personally called the FBI director to ask for assurance that he was not under investigation, and Comey assured him that the FBI was not investigating his alleged links with Russia.
— CNN International (@cnni) May 12, 2017
Trump claimed that Comey had assured him on three separate occasions that he was not under FBI investigation over alleged links with Russia. Trump was therefore incensed when Comey continued to pursue the Russia investigation despite Trump’s effort to make him stop.
“I was going to fire Comey… and in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won,'” Trump said, while defending his decision to fire Comey during the NBC News interview.
Observers have noted that Trump’s latest explanation of the reason behind his decision to fire Comey contradicts the explanation initially offered by the White House when Comey’s dismissal was first announced. When Trump fired Comey on Tuesday, the White House released a memo issued by the deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein. The memo suggested Comey was fired because he mishandled the Clinton email investigation.
— NDTV (@ndtv) May 12, 2017
White House press secretary Sean Spicer also told reporters that the decision to fire Comey was based on Rosenstein’s recommendation as expressed in the memo. Vice President Mike Pence also later echoed Spicer’s explanation in an interview with CNN on Wednesday. According to Pence, Trump decided to accept Rosenstein’s recommendation that Comey should be removed.
But Trump contradicted Pence’s and Spicer’s explanation in the NBC News interview.
“I was going to fire Comey. My decision. I was going to fire Comey,” he said. “There’s no good time to do it, by the way. I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.”
“He [Comey] is a showboat, he’s a grandstander, the FBI has been in turmoil. 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.”
It is known that Comey had been leading an investigation into possible collusion between Trump campaign aides and Russian operatives when he was dismissed him. Trump appeared to incriminate himself and expose himself to further questions and suspicions about his motive for firing Comey when he admitted that his decision was influenced by Comey’s dogged pursuit of investigation into his alleged links with Russia. Multiple media reports have noted that Trump fired Comey just after he requested more resources to expand FBI investigation into Trump’s alleged links with Russia.
Trump recalled three separate conversations with Comey in which he asked the FBI director for assurance that he was not being investigated. Trump said the first conversation occurred over dinner, and Comey assured him that he was not under investigation.
“He [Comey] wanted to stay on at the FBI, and I said ‘I’ll, you know, consider and see what happens.’ But we had a very nice dinner, and at that time he told me, ‘You are not under investigation.'”
The two subsequent conversations were phone calls. Trump said he called Comey and asked him whether he was under investigation and Comey assured him once again that he was not.
“I actually asked him,” Trump said. “I said, ‘If it’s possible would you let me know, am I under investigation?'”
“You are not under investigation,'” Comey replied, according to Trump.
The third conversation occurred when Comey called Trump.
Trump’s statements in the NBC News interview will strengthen widespread public perception that Trump fired Comey because he continued to pursue investigation into his alleged ties with Russia despite having allegedly given Trump the assurance that he was not being investigated. Trump’s admission that he asked Comey on multiple occasions whether he was being investigated also suggested that Trump was testing Comey’s loyalty to guide his decision whether to fire or retain him.
However, Trump’s version of his conversation with Comey was contradicted in a report by the New York Times. The report claimed that Comey never told Trump that he was not being investigated. Rather, Comey demurred when Trump asked him for an assurance that he was not under investigation.
According to the New York Times, during the “nice dinner” with Comey, Trump demanded the FBI Chief’s loyalty but Comey refused to pledge loyalty on ethical grounds. Comey later told colleagues that instead of pledging loyalty, he promised he would act honestly, but warned the president not to expect him to be “reliable in the conventional political sense.”
The Guardian pointed out that Trump calling Comey to ask him whether he was being investigated was not illegal but “highly irregular.”
However, the White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted in response to inquiries from reporters that she did not believe the president’s question to Comey was inappropriate.
“I don’t see it as a conflict of interest and neither do many of the legal scholars who’ve been commenting on it over the last hour,” Sanders said.
She failed to identify the legal scholars she was referring to.
However, Matthew Miller, a former Department of Justice (DoJ) official, told MSNBC that Trump’s question was “inappropriate,” and that Comey would have violated DoJ rules by answering it.
“It’s completely inappropriate for [Trump] to ask that question,” Miller said.”It would also be a violation of DoJ rules for James Comey to answer it.”
Sanders also denied Comey’s alleged version of what transpired during the “nice dinner” with Trump, saying that Trump would never have demanded Comey’s personal loyalty.
“We don’t believe this to be an accurate account,” Sanders said. “The integrity of our law enforcement agencies and their leadership is of the utmost importance to President Trump. He would never even suggest the expectation of personal loyalty, only loyalty to our country and its great people.”
Another report by the New York Times suggested other reasons why Trump might have fired Comey. Sources revealed that Trump was outraged when Comey publicly dismissed Trump’s unsubstantiated allegations that Obama wire-tapped his phones. Trump had expected Comey to defend him but instead, the FBI chief dismissed Trump’s claim, saying he was not aware of any FBI illegal surveillance of Trump during the election period.
[Featured Image by Evan Vuccci/AP Images]