During an interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt, Donald Trump described James Comey, the former FBI director whom he fired on Tuesday, a “showboat.” The president also said that Comey told him he was not under investigation for potential ties between his campaign and Russia.
“I actually asked him,” Trump said. “I said, if it’s possible would you let me know, ‘Am I under investigation?’ He said, ‘You are not under investigation.'”
Trump also contradicted an earlier White House statement claiming that Trump fired Comey after a memo recommending the dismissal was sent from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Instead, Trump told Holt that he had already planned the firing and requested a memo from the Department of Justice to support his decision.
“He’s a showboat, he’s grandstander, the FBI has been in turmoil,” Trump said of Comey in his wide-ranging interview with Holt. “You know that, I know that. Everybody knows that. You take a look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil, less than a year ago. It hasn’t recovered from that.”
Holt also asked Trump if he is sending a message to Comey’s successor to “lay off” of the investigation into his campaign. Trump denied that, saying that “if Russia did anything, I want to know,” but also insisted that “the Russians did not affect the vote.”
Trump’s surprise dismissal of Comey has sent shockwaves through Washington, with Democrats accusing Trump of attempting to derail the Russia investigation by removing the FBI director. CNN reported shortly after Comey’s firing was announced that the FBI had sent out grand jury subpoenas pertaining to the investigation.
“The next FBI Director appointed by President Trump will not have the independence or confidence of the American people to continue this investigation,” Rep. Keith Ellison, deputy chair of the DNC, said in a statement Tuesday.
“In order to preserve the integrity of the investigation and the government, we need a special prosecutor to probe the possible collusion between Donald Trump‘s campaign and Russian government officials,” he said.
Some Republicans also joined in the condemnation of Trump’s decision, with Michigan Rep. Justin Amash calling for an independent commission to continue the Russia investigation. Amash is a member of the House Freedom Caucus, which played a major hand in the passage of the American Health Care Act through the House of Representatives last week.
Trump’s interview with Holt will air in full Thursday night on NBC Nightly News. Watch Trump’s remarks about Comey in the clip above.