President Donald Trump is facing new pressure over his decision to abruptly fire FBI Director James Comey after the New York Times revealed on Friday that the president told Russian officials in the Oval Office last week that Comey’s ouster takes “great pressure” off him.
The Times cited a document that summarized Trump’s meeting with Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. Trump was already under fire for allegedly revealing highly classified information about an Islamic State threat to the Russians during the meeting.
“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump said, according to the Times. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer offered a statement that did not dispute Trump’s quotes and instead presented them as the president talking frankly about the “pressure” Comey had put on Trump’s diplomatic responsibilities.
He also attacked the leaks coming out of the U.S. government.
“The President has always emphasized the importance of making deals with Russia as it relates to Syria, Ukraine, defeating ISIS and other key issues for the benefit and safety of the American people. By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia,” Spicer said in the statement. “The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it. Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations.”
Adding to Trump’s troubles, the Washington Post reported on Friday afternoon that federal investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in the U.S. election is considering a current White House official as a “significant person of interest,” meaning the probe has taken an even more serious turn for the president and his aides. The article did not name the official.
In reaction to that report, Spicer said, “As the President has stated before – a thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity.”
Trump, who left on his first foreign trip shortly before the two pieces were published, has been hit by a wave of self-inflicted scandals that started with his firing of Comey last week.
The White House gave varying explanations for Trump’s firing of Comey before the president himself said in an interview with NBC that the FBI’s ongoing probe into contacts between his associates and Russian officials influenced his decision — and that the decision was his alone, made regardless of the opinions of DOJ officials.
It was then revealed on Tuesday, also by the Times, that Trump had allegedly pressured Comey in February to drop the FBI’s probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a move that some said could amount to obstruction of justice.
On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed a special prosecutor, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, to probe both allegations that Russia meddled in the U.S. election and possible collusion between Trump’s camp and the Russians.