DONALD Trump has shot down his own White House’s initial explanation for the firing of FBI Director James Comey.
In an interview with NBC today, Mr Trump called Mr Comey a “showboat”, and said he was going to sack him regardless of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s recommendation.
That recommendation was central to the White House’s story in the hours after Mr Comey was fired. Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Mr Rosenstein had independently assessed Mr Comey’s performance, and the President wasn’t even aware of his probe before receiving the pivotal memo.
“No one from the White House,” Mr Spicer told a reporter, driving the point home. “That was a Department of Justice decision.”
Multiple media reports in the ensuing 48 hours, citing sources inside the administration, contradicted the White House’s story and claimed Mr Trump had instructed Mr Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to find a reason to fire Mr Comey.
“I was going to fire Comey,” Mr Trump told NBC today. “Regardless of the recommendation I was going to fire Comey.”
“He’s a showboat, he’s grandstander, the FBI has been in turmoil,” Mr Trump added. “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.”
Mr Trump said Mr Rosenstein’s memo was not the main reason for the sacking – and implied the investigation into Russia was.
“When I decided to do it, I said to myself … this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story,” Mr Trump said.
Interviewer Lester Holt asked the President whether he and Mr Comey had discussed whether or not he was under investigation by the FBI.
“I actually asked him,” Mr Trump replied. “I said, ‘If it’s possible would you let me know, am I under investigation?’ He said, ‘You are not under investigation.’” Mr Trump said.
Mr Trump said Mr Comey had relayed that three times — twice on the phone and once at dinner.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she did not believe it was inappropriate for Mr Trump to ask Mr Comey if he was under investigation at a dinner in which Mr Comey was asking to retain his job.
“I don’t see it as a conflict of interest,” she said.
ACTING FBI BOSS: COMEY HAD OUR SUPPORT
Meanwhile, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe also contradicted the White House, denying its claim that fired director James Comey had lost the support of rank-and-file members of the bureau.
“Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does today,” Andrew McCabe told the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“I hold Director Comey in the highest regard. I have the highest respect for his abilities and his integrity.”
He also called the Russia investigation “highly significant”, again contradicting claims from the White House, and refused to confirm Mr Trump’s assertion that Mr Comey told him he wasn’t under investigation.
The committee’s chairman, Republican Richard Burr, asked Mr McCabe if Mr Comey had ever told Mr Trump that he was not the subject of any investigation.
Mr McCabe said he could not comment on any conversations between Mr Trump and Mr Comey.
He did say that the FBI’s investigation would continue and that the agency had not been pressured by anyone.
“There has been no effort to impede our investigation to date,” Mr McCabe said. “You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing.”
The Washington Post reports Mr Rosenstein and his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, were told by Mr Trump to explain the case against Mr Comey in writing.
The White House then claimed Mr Rosenstein’s memo, titled Restoring Public Confidence in the FBI, was the reason Mr Trump had decided to act.
“The president took the advice of the deputy attorney general who oversees the director of the FBI, brought those concerns to the attorney general who brought them to the president, and they made a decision to remove him,” Mr Trump’s adviser Kellyanne Conway told CNN.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer and his deputy Sarah Huckabee Sanders also attributed the sacking to Mr Rosenstein’s memo.
That position changed overnight with Ms Huckabee Sanders taking the podium of the White House briefing room to say it was entirely the president’s decision.
“I went off the information I had,” she said, denying she had deliberately misled the press. “I don’t think there was ever an attempt to pin the decision on the Deputy AG.”
Mr Rosenstein, a 52-year-old Harvard graduate, has a reputation as a straight shooter and nonpartisan
Ms Conway was asked if Mr Rosenstein had been asked to write the memo, to which she replied “now you’re insulting him”.
“One presumes that he wrote the report on his own. He’s fully capable of writing a report,” she said.
Ms Huckabee Sanders said Mr Trump was not trying to quash the investigation into potential collusion between the President’s campaign team and Russia.
“Any investigation that was taking place on Monday is still taking place today,” she said.
Originally published as Trump shoots down his own story