President Donald Trump on Thursday described former FBI Director James Comey as a “showboat” and said he intended to fire him “regardless” of what Justice Department officials suggested.
“I was going to fire regardless of recommendation,” Trump told NBC News’ Lester Holt in an interview scheduled to air later on Thursday, two days after Comey’s abrupt firing.
“He made a recommendation,” Trump continued, referring to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who wrote a memo criticizing the FBI director’s handling of an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state. “He’s highly respected. Very good guy. Very smart guy. The Democrats like him. The Republicans like him. He made a recommendation. But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.”
The White House had previously claimed that Trump fired Comey following the recommendation of the Justice Department. But multiple news outlets, including POLITICO, have reported that Trump was upset with Comey over the ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia and was looking for a reason to fire him.
“He’s a showboat, he’s a grand-stander, the FBI has been in turmoil,” Trump told Holt of Comey. “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 also repeated his claim that Comey personally told him he was not under investigation by the FBI for possible connections to Russia. News reports in the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal have cited anonymous sources describing that assertion as inaccurate.
“I actually asked him. I said, ‘If it’s possible, would you let me know am I under investigation?’ He said, ‘You are not under investigation,’” Trump told Holt.
Trump said Comey relayed that message once in person, at dinner, and twice over the phone. Trump said he called Comey once and Comey called him in another instance.
Asked about Comey’s sworn testimony that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign over whether it colluded with the Russian government’s attempts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, Trump doubled down.
“All I can tell you is I know that I’m not under investigation. Me, personally,” Trump said. “I’m not talking about campaigns, I’m not talking about anything else. I’m not under investigation.”