Saturday 18 November 2017

Comey sought funds for Russia probe before Trump fired him

President Donald Trump with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, at the White House in Washington yesterday. Photo: Tass
President Donald Trump with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, at the White House in Washington yesterday. Photo: Tass

Ruth Sherlock and Nick Allen

James Comey sought more funding for the FBI investigation into links between Russia and the Trump administration just days before he was fired, it has emerged.

The fired FBI director reportedly told Congress he had asked Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, for a significant boost in resources for the inquiry last week.

Mr Rosenstein later wrote a letter providing the rationale for Donald Trump to fire Mr Comey.

The revelations came as Mr Trump defended himself against allegations that Mr Comey's firing was linked to the investigation.

Former FBI director James Comey. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP
Former FBI director James Comey. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP

"He wasn't doing a good job, very simply," Mr Trump said last night in a hastily arranged meeting with Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state.

In a flurry of Twitter posts earlier in the day, the US President had lambasted his critics. "Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike. When things calm down, they will be thanking me," he said.

"The Democrats have said some of the worst things about James Comey, including the fact that he should be fired, but now they play so sad!"

Mike Pence, the Vice President, also defended Mr Trump yesterday, saying that he had "made the right decision at the right time".

The Trump administration said Mr Comey's abrupt sacking was over his handling of the inquiry into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server when she was in government.

Democrats have criticised the former FBI director over his public statements about the inquiry, particularly regarding his decision to reopen the investigation just days before the election. Mrs Clinton has said she believes his actions in part cost her the presidency.

Questions were raised yesterday as to why, if that was the reason, Mr Trump had waited some five months since taking office to fire Mr Comey.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy White House press secretary, said last night that Mr Trump had considered firing Mr Comey "since the day he was elected president".

The decision sent shockwaves through Washington. Parallels were swiftly drawn to the last time a president fired a man investigating him and his aides. In what came to be known as the "Saturday Night Massacre" of 1973, then president Richard Nixon, dismissed Archibald Cox, the independent special prosecutor who was looking into the Watergate scandal.

"We know director Comey was leading an investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians, a serious offence," Chuck Schumer, the Democrat Senate minority leader, said.

"Were those investigations getting too close to home for the president?"

The news that Mr Comey had asked for more funds for the inquiry, reported yesterday by several media outlets, added to the speculation. As did reports that prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of Michael Flynn, the former National Security advisor, seeking business records.

A grand jury - selected to examine the validity of an accusation before trial - would constitute a major escalation in the enquiry.

Mr Flynn was fired from his post after it emerged that he failed to disclose the nature of phone discussions with Sergey Kislyak, Russia's ambassador in Washington.

In a case of impeccable timing, Mr Trump's only publicly scheduled engagement yesterday was a meeting with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, at the White House.

When Mr Lavrov was asked if Mr Comey's firing would cast a shadow over the talks, he responded sarcastically: "Was he fired? You're kidding. You're kidding."

The White House had barred the news media from Trump's meeting with Lavrov. The only photographers in the room were the official White House photographer and a photographer from Tass, the Russian state-run news agency.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, also waded into the affair and said the sacking would not impact relations with Moscow.

"There will be no effect," he told CBS News in the Russian city of Sochi. "Your question looks very funny for me."

Democrats have almost unanimously called for the justice department to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Russia allegations.

The chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, which is also looking into the allegations, yesterday said Mr Comey's firing could delay the probe.

Mr Comey, who was due to testify before the panel, will now be asked to appear in a private capacity next Tuesday.

Mrs Sanders said yesterday that the administration did not believe that a separate special prosecutor was necessary.

She added that Mr Rosenstein is "about as independent as it comes". (©Daily Telegraph, London)

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