In contradiction, Pres. Trump says he planned to fire Comey all along
WASHINGTON (AP/KTVU) - President Donald Trump had harsh words about FBI Director James Comey Thursday as the President defended his firing of the FBI's top official in charge of an investigation into Russian election meddling and possible links to Mr. Trump's campaign.
"Look he's a show boat, he's a grand-stander," said President Trump in an interview with NBC News.
Contradicting previous White House explanations, President Donald Trump declared Thursday he had planned to fire Comey all along, regardless of the report and recommendations by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, which criticized Comey's handling of last year's investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails as the impetus for Trump's decision.
"Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey," said Mr. Trump.
The White House's initial account was that the firing was due to memos by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Sources reported, however, that it quickly became clear that the president had been stewing for days over the Russia investigation and Comey's refusal to defend him in appearances before lawmakers. By Wednesday afternoon, the officials, like Trump, were saying he had in fact been considering ousting the FBI director for months because of a lack of confidence in his ability to lead the agency.
One new development, was when the President seemed to switch gears Thursday. The president had sent out a tweet May 8th, one day before Comey's firing, where he called the Russian collusion concerns a "hoax" and a "taxpayer funded charade." But Thursday he did a turnaround, telling NBC news he supports a full investigation.
"I'll tell you this -- uh if Russia or anybody else is trying to interfere with our elections, I think it's a horrible thing and I want to get to the bottom of it and I want to make sure it will never ever happen," said the President.
New information emerged on Capitol Hill Thursday, as Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe disputed the White House's assertion that Comey had lost the confidence of the FBI's rank-and-file.
"That is not accurate," McCabe said. "Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day."
McCabe testified before the Senate Intelligence committee and told the Senators that he believes the FBI has adequate resources to move forward with an independent investigation of Russian election tampering and potential links to Mr. Trump's campaign.
Days before he was fired, Comey requested more resources to pursue his investigation, U.S. officials have said. McCabe said he was not aware of any such request and said the Russia investigation is adequately resourced.
It was unclear whether word of the Comey request, said to have been put to Rosenstein, ever made its way to Trump.
Democratic Virginia Senator Mark Warner said the timing of Comey's firing was suspicious and he extracted a promise from McCabe.
"Do you commit to informing this committee about any effort to interfere with the FBI's ongoing investigation into links between Russia and Trump campaign?" Sen. Warner asked McCabe.
"I absolutely do," McCabe responded.
"There has been no effort to impede our investigation to date. Simply put sir, you cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing right thing, protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution," said McCabe.
The Senate Intelligence Committee's Republican chair Senator Richard Burr vowed to press forward with the investigation.
"It divides the Republican party," said Henry Brady, Dean Of The UC Berkeley Goldman School Of Public Policy. He says Comey's firing puts more scrutiny on the republican controlled Congress.
"He's given more impetus to the Republicans to realize they'd better pursue this investigation, wrestle it to the ground and figure out what the truth is, otherwise they're going to be in trouble," said Brady.
As for calls for a special prosecutor, Brady says it's not needed, for now.
"It's really not the best way to go. It would be better if we could get an FBI director whom everybody could trust and a Senate Committee that actually looked like it was pursuing this with due diligence," said Brady.
McCabe did point out the remarkable nature of Trump's version of his conversations with Comey. McCabe told a Senate panel it was not "standard practice" to tell an individual whether they are or are not under investigation.
"I said, `If it's possible, would you let me know am I under investigation?' He said you are not under investigation," Trump told NBC. He said the discussions happened in two phone calls and at a dinner in which Comey was asking to keep his job.
Mr. Trump showed no concern that the request might be viewed as interference in an active FBI probe into his 2016 campaign's possible ties to Russia's election meddling.
Previous presidents have made a public show of staying out of legal matters, so as not to appear to be injecting politics. Trump's comments demonstrated his striking deviation from that practice.
The ousted director himself is said to be confident that his own version of events will come out, possibly in an appearance before Congress, according to an associate who has been in touch with him since his firing Tuesday.
Mr. Trump acknowledged for the first time that the investigation into Russian election meddling and alleged links to Mr. Trump's campaign, was also on his mind as he ousted the man overseeing the probe.
"In fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won," said President Trump.
Trump and Comey's relationship was strained early on, in part because of the president's explosive and unsubstantiated claims that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. Comey found the allegations confounding, according to his associate, and wondered what to make of what he described as strange thoughts coming from his new boss.
The White House tried to move past the controversy, announcing that the president had signed an executive order creating a voter fraud commission and another on cybersecurity. Trump signed the orders privately and was not seen in public apart from his TV interview with NBC.
Trump had kept his decision to fire Comey from all but his closest advisers. Many in the White House were ill-prepared for the outraged response from Democrats and open concern from some Republicans.
White House officials and others insisted on anonymity in order to disclose private conversations and internal deliberations.
The White House said Trump is weighing options for replacing Comey, a decision that could have broad implications for the future of the Russia investigation.
Some senior officials have discussed nominating Rep. Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who ran the House committee that investigated Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's actions in connection with the 2012 attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya. Another person suggested Merrick Garland, President Obama's nominee for the late Justice Scalia's empty seat.
Trump's advisers have repeatedly tried to downplay the Russia-election matter, with Sanders saying Wednesday the FBI was "doing a whole lot more than the Russia investigation."
But McCabe characterized the investigation as "highly significant" and assured senators Comey's firing would not hinder it.
The chairman and top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee abruptly left the hearing Thursday to meet with Rosenstein, who is McCabe's boss. The senators said later that the Russia investigations were discussed but Comey's firing was not.