Donald Trump had his sights set on firing FBI director James Comey even before he received a recommendation calling for his dismissal from the deputy attorney general, the US president said in an interview Thursday.
Trump’s explanation was another contradiction in a story that has roiled Washington and fuelled suspicion about the president’s true motives for sacking the man leading an investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
According to the White House’s explanation on Tuesday, Trump only made the decision to dismiss Comey after reading a three-page memo by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
But Trump told NBC News in the interview that he had planned to fire Comey for some time because he was “not doing a good job.”
“I was going to fire Comey. My decision,” he said.
“He’s a showboat, he’s a grandstander, the FBI has been in turmoil,” Trump said. “You know that, I know that. Everybody knows that.”
He said he wants the investigation into Russian interference in the election “to be done absolutely properly” and the he wants the person leading it to be “somebody that’s competent.”
He reiterated that he currently has no involvement with Russia and says there is no collusion between him and his campaign and the Russians.
He said he sold a house many years ago to a Russian and held the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow a number of years ago, but said he is not involved in Russia now, “no loans, no nothing.”
Opposition Democrats have questioned whether Trump in fact fired Comey because the FBI was advancing its investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Russian meddling was a major theme in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump revealed in the interview that he had asked Comey whether he was personally under investigation as part of the agency’s Russia probe. Trump said Comey had told him on three separate occasions he was not.
“I said, if it’s possible would you let me know? ‘Am I under investigation?’” He said, recalling a face-to-face White House meeting. Comey told him: “You are not under investigation,” Trump said.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Thursday the White House want the investigation to conclude “with integrity” and believes that by firing Comey steps have been taken “to make that happen.”
Later Thursday Trump sent a tweet about the day’s developments.
“Russia must be laughing up their sleeves watching as the US tears itself apart over a Democrat EXCUSE for losing the election,” he said.
Excerpts of the Trump interview were released as Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe faced questions on Capitol Hill about his former boss.
In another contradiction of the White House’s story, McCabe said Comey was still largely supported by the FBI’s 35,000 employees.
McCabe told the Senate Intelligence Committee there had been no effort to impede the investigation since Comey was fired, adding that it would not matter if there had been because “you cannot stop the men and the women of the FBI from doing the right thing.”
The White House initially said Comey’s sacking was due to his handling of the Hillary Clinton email affair last year, and they stressed that Trump only followed the recommendation of the deputy attorney general.
That explanation seemed dubious to opposition Democrats who said if Clinton’s emails were the real reason, Trump should have fired Comey as soon as he became president.