Kenya Confidential Correspondent, Washington, May 12, 2017
President Donald Trump appears to be slowly but surely edging himself towards impeachment over events surrounding the Russian meddling with US Presidential elections last year.
In an exclusive interview Thursday with NBC News’ Lester Holt, Trump called ousted FBI chief James Comey a “showboat” and revealed he asked Comey whether he was under investigation for alleged ties to Russia.
“I actually asked him” if I were 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?’ He said, ‘You are not under investigation.'”
“I know I’m not under investigation,” Trump told Holt during the 31-minute White House interview. See more of Holt’s exclusive interview with Trump.
It would be highly unusual for someone who might be the focus of an FBI probe to ask whether he was under investigation and to be directly told by the FBI director that he was not.
The president also reiterated his claim that he had been planning to fire Comey even before he received Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s recommendation to do so.
“He’s a showboat, he’s grandstander, the FBI has been in turmoil,” Trump said of Comey in his wide-ranging interview with Holt. “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.”
Trump said he never tried to pressure Comey into dropping the FBI probe of the Trump campaign and insisted, “I want to find out if there was a problem in the election having to do with Russia.”
Asked by Holt if by firing Comey he was trying to send a “lay off” message to his successor, Trump said, “I’m not.”
“If Russia did anything, I want to know that,” he said.
But Trump also insisted there was no “collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians.”
“Also, the Russians did not affect the vote,” he said.
Holt’s interview with the president came as Washington was still reeling over Trump’s removal of Comey on Tuesday. And Trump’s revelation that he would have fired Comey even without Rosenstein’s input was not what his top officials had told reporters earlier this week.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders explained Thursday that she had spoken with the president on Tuesday night and didn’t ask him directly if he’d already made the decision to terminate Comey before seeing the Rosenstein memo, which she had earlier told reporters was the reason Trump ousted the FBI chief.
But Trump, in his talk with Holt, also contradicted Vice President Mike Pence’s account of how his boss came to his decision to fire Comey on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rosenstein.
When asked if Pence too had been kept in the dark, Sanders retorted “nobody was in the dark” and accused the media of creating a “false narrative.”
On Wednesday, Trump claimed he canned Comey because “he was not doing a good job” and the White House on cited the FBI chief’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation as the reason they were firing the veteran G-man.
The Democrats, many of whom believe that Comey’s intrusion into the election helped Trump win the presidency, immediately denounced the move and called for the appointment of a special prosecutor as New York Senator Charles Schumer suggested a “cover-up” was underway.
“The timing of Director Comey’s dismissal to me and many committee members on both sides of the aisle is especially troubling,” Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, said Thursday at the opening of a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.
“He was leading an active counterintelligence investigation into any links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government or its representatives, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts to interfere in our election,” he said.
Asked whether he agreed that Comey was “showboat,” Senator Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) called him “one of the most ethical, upright, straightforward individuals I’ve had the opportunity to work with.”
“Sure there were FBI employees that disagreed with how he handled the Clinton email announcements,” Burr said. “The lion share of FBI employees respect the former director and it shows the professionalism that he brought to the role that he was in.”