Trump defends Comey firing, denies asking FBI chief to end Flynn probe0:49
U.S. President Donald Trump defended his firing of FBI Director James Comey on Thursday and said he did not ask Comey to end his probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
DONALD Trump reportedly bragged to Russia that he had fired ‘nut job’ FBI boss James Comey and that it would ease pressure on him.
The New York Times reports that Mr Trump told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the US, Sergei Kislyak, who visited the Oval Office on May 10, the day after Mr Comey was fired, that the decision would take “great pressure” off him.
“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr Trump said. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off. I’m not under investigation.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer defended Mr Trump but stopped short of saying the New York Times article was untrue.
“By grandstanding and politicising the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia,” Mr Spicer said in a statement to the press. “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.”
The news broke less than an hour after Mr Trump and First Lady Melania Trump took off on Air Force One for his first overseas trip.
Mr Trump tweeted that he would be “strongly protecting American interests” as he headed off.
However, he failed to appoint a new FBI director, as he said he expected to do before he took off on his trip.
Former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and former top FBI official Richard McFeely are the four most likely to be appointed.
Mr Trump’s nine-day, five-city foreign excursion will include Saudi Arabia, Israel, Belgium, Italy and the Vatican.
Mr Trump, who will be travelling with First Lady Melania Trump, will meet NATO leaders in Brussels, G7 leaders in Sicily and Pope Francis at the Vatican.
Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner have been given a rabbinic pass to travel with Mr Trump on Air Force One on the Jewish Shabbat.
It trip came as public approval of Mr Trump dropped to its lowest level since his inauguration, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.
The May 14-18 opinion poll found that 38 per cent of adults approved of Trump while 56 per cent disapproved.
The news about Mr Comey comes as it is reported that he became “unsettled” and “disgusted” by Mr Trump’s attempts to befriend him.
Benjamin Wittes, a friend of Mr Comey’s, wrote on Lawfare that the former FBI boss tried to keep Mr Trump at arm’s length.
He says at a post-inauguration in the Blue Room of the White House, Mr Comey, dressed in a blue suit, tried to blend in with the curtains so as not to be singled out by Mr Trump.
“He thought he had gotten through and not been noticed or singled out and that he was going to get away without an individual interaction,” Mr Wittes said.
However, Mr Trump called on him and went in to hug him, a move that Mr Wittes says “disgusted” Mr Comey.
“Comey said that as he was walking across the room he was determined that there wasn’t going to be a hug,” Mr. Wittes said. “It was bad enough there was going to be a handshake. Comey has long arms so Comey said he pre-emptively reached out for a handshake and grabbed the president’s hand. But Trump pulled him into an embrace and Comey didn’t reciprocate. If you look at the video, it’s one person shaking hands and another hugging.”
“He regarded the episode as a physical attempt to show closeness and warmth in a fashion calculated to compromise him before Democrats who already mistrusted him,” Mr Wittes wrote.
Reports have suggested that Mr Trump asked Mr Comey if he was personally under investigation as part of the FBI’s probe into his campaign’s ties with Russia.
The New York Times also reported that Mr Trump called Mr Comey to ask when federal authorities would publicly say that he wasn’t under investigation.
Mr Comey apparently told the president that it wasn’t appropriate for him to ask these questions directly and that the White House counsel’s office should reach out to the FBI.
In his letter firing Mr Comey, Mr Trump references their private conversations to put on record that he isn’t under investigation.
Mr Comey has also alleged that Mr Trump asked him to end his investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s ties with Russia.