WASHINGTON ― A pair of bombshell reports on Friday threaten to overshadow President Donald Trump’s first overseas trip and further embroil his administration and presidency in scandal.
The New York Times reported Trump told Russian officials that he felt “great pressure because of Russia” that he said was taken off when he fired FBI Director James Comey. Minutes later, the Washington Post reported that investigators are looking at a close Trump adviser as part of their probe into possible ties between Russia and Trump’s campaign.
Trump met with Russian officials on May 10 after firing Comey the evening before. At the meeting, Trump told them he was not under investigation and bashed Comey, the Times reported.
“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump said, according to notes of the meeting read to the Times.
Trump and the White House have repeatedly contradicted themselves over the reasoning for Comey’s firing, which took place as he led a probe into Russian influence into the U.S. election and potential ties to his campaign. The New York Times report is further evidence that Trump fired the FBI director at least in part to end the investigation ― something that’s only served to bring more attention to it.
The White House did not refute the Times’ report, but press secretary Sean Spicer said it wasn’t the “real story.”
“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,” Spicer said in a statement.
“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 continued. “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.”
Not only did firing Comey not get investigators off Trump’s back, but the investigation into possible ties between Russia and his campaign also includes a close adviser, the Washington Post reported, citing unnamed officials.
Key targets of the investigation until now have reportedly included former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and also former Trump campaign honcho Paul Manafort, two people who were part of Trump’s campaign but are not currently part of the administration. Flynn resigned in February after having lied to investigators about his contacts with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, who was one of the Russian officials Trump met at the White house on May 10.
Also during Trump’s meeting with the Russian officials, he reportedly disclosed “highly classified information” that “jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State,” the Washington Post reported.
Federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas related to the investigation into Flynn.
White House officials initially claimed that Trump fired Comey on the advice of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and released a memo by the official voicing concerns about the FBI director’s behavior, including his handling of an investigation into 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
But Trump publicly said soon after that he made the decision ahead of time, and acknowledged the Russia investigation was part of his decision.
“I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it,” he told Lester Holt. “And 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.’”
Rosenstein contradicted White House officials’ initial claims as well. He told members of Congress this week that he knew Trump was going to fire Comey before he wrote his memo.
This week, Trump repeatedly called the Russian investigation a “witch hunt.”