Wednesday 21 February 2018

Donald Trump decided to fire FBI chief before recommendation to do so

People protest against the firing of FBI director James Comey by President Donald Trump, in Los Angeles (AP)
People protest against the firing of FBI director James Comey by President Donald Trump, in Los Angeles (AP)

US President Donald Trump has said he had planned to fire FBI director James Comey regardless of the recommendation from his deputy attorney general, contrary to earlier statements from the White House.

Mr Trump told NBC News he had made up his mind to dismiss Mr Comey before he met on Monday with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and deputy Rod Rosenstein.

White House officials had said earlier in the week that Mr Trump asked Mr Sessions and Mr Rosenstein for their opinions about Mr Comey, and the president then acted on those recommendations.

Mr Trump also told NBC "I know that I'm not under investigation" for collusion with Russia.

He said he spoke with Mr Comey once during dinner and twice in phone calls, during which time he says the FBI chief told him "you are not under investigation".

He says he initiated one phone call, and Mr Comey initiated the other.

In his termination letter to Mr Comey, sent to reporters on Tuesday, Mr Trump thanked him for informing him "three times" that he is not under investigation.

Mr Trump added: "I know that I'm not under investigation. Me personally. I'm not talking about campaigns or anything else. I am not under investigation."

Meanwhile, acting FBI director Andrew McCabe has said he disagrees with the White House suggestion that it is a low priority of the FBI to investigate Russian interference in the election and potential Trump campaign collusion.

He said it is a "highly significant investigation", contradicting statements made by the White House downplaying it.

On Wednesday, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it was "probably one of the smallest things" that the FBI has "got going on their plate".

But Mr McCabe told a Senate panel that he would not describe the investigation that way.

He declined to say exactly how many FBI personnel are involved in the investigation, adding that he cannot discuss that in a public setting.

Mr McCabe also contradicted the White House claim that Mr Comey had lost the support of rank-and-file members of the bureau.

The White House used that assertion to justify Mr Comey's firing, but Mr McCabe said the claim is not accurate.

He said Mr Comey "enjoyed broad support" within the agency and that he holds Mr Comey in the "absolute highest regard", adding that it was the "greatest privilege" of his career to serve under him.

Mr McCabe assured senators he will alert them to any effort to interfere with the investigation.

Mr Trump's firing of Mr Comey has led Democrats and others to raise concerns about the future of the investigation.

But Mr McCabe, speaking publicly for the first time since his former boss's exit, said there has been "no effort to impede our investigation".

He added: "You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing.

Press Association

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