Despite a letter saying he chose to fire FBI director James Comey because of a recommendation, U.S. President Donald Trump says he would have fired Comey regardless.
“He’s a showboat, he’s a grandstander, the FBI has been in turmoil,” Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt in an interview released Thursday.
“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.”
In a letter Tuesday night, Trump terminated Comey’s position, citing a recommendation from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
But Trump changed his tune Thursday, when talking to Holt.
“I was going to fire Comey, my decision,” he explained, when asked about a meeting with Rosenstein that took place Monday night.
In public testimony Thursday, the acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, contradicted White House statements about why Comey was dismissed, particularly the assertion that Comey had lost the confidence of the organization.
“That is not accurate,” McCabe said in response to a senator’s question. “I can tell you also that director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day.”
Trump was also asked about the decision to include Comey’s assurances that Trump wasn’t under investigation in his letter.
“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation,” Trump wrote on Tuesday, “I nevertheless concur with the judgement of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.”
Trump said Comey told him that while they were having dinner once, and twice on the phone.
A dinner between Trump and Comey was at the centre of controversy amid conflicting reports on Thursday night.
In the NBC interview, Trump said that the pair had dinner at the former FBI director’s request, and that they ate together because Comey wanted to stay on in his job.
“I think he asked for it,” Trump said.
But The New York Times provided a very different report of a dinner that they shared — it wasn’t clear whether it was the same one.
The newspaper quoted two people who heard Comey’s account.
They said that the ex-FBI director was asked to come to the White House and dine with President Trump — and that during the dinner, the president asked Comey whether he would pledge his loyalty to him.
Comey did not pledge his loyalty, but he said he would be honest with the commander-in-chief.
Trump also said that he was the one who asked about the investigation during their talks.
“I said, if it’s possible would you let me know, ‘Am I under investigation?’ He said, ‘You are not under investigation.'”
McCabe told senators it is not standard FBI practice to tell someone he or she is or isn’t under investigation. He would not comment on conversations between Trump and the former FBI director.
The FBI probe into the possible Russian ties to the Trump campaign is still ongoing. McCabe said that Comey’s firing will not hinder it.
Days before he was fired, Comey requested more resources to pursue his investigation, U.S. officials have said, fueling concerns that Trump was trying to undermine a probe that could threaten his presidency. McCabe said he was not aware of any such request and said the Russia investigation is adequately resourced.
Lester Holt’s full interview with Trump will air on the NBC Nightly News on Thursday.
*with files from the Associated Press