During an interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt on Thursday, president Donald Trump called ousted FBI chief James Comey a “showboat” and revealed he asked Comey whether he was under investigation for alleged ties to Russia.
Raising more ethical questions, Trump admitted that he called Comey to find out if he was under FBI investigation.
“I actually asked him” if I was under investigation, Trump said, noting that he spoke with Comey once over dinner and twice by phone.
“I said, if it’s possible would you let me know, ‘Am I under investigation? He said, ‘You are not under investigation’,” Trump told Holt during the White House interview.
It would be highly unusual for someone who might be the focus of an FBI probe to ask whether he were under investigation and to be directly told by the FBI director that he was not under investigation.
— NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) May 11, 2017
That’s a remarkable admission, given the delineation most presidents and FBI directors are careful to try and draw. They don’t want even the appearance of collusion or interference in what are supposed to be independent investigations, especially ones that might be related to themselves.
Comey was so careful, for example, to avoid the appearance of impropriety during the Obama years, the 6-feet-8-inch Comey was sure to never play basketball with the former president.
Trump also said that Comey told him two other times that he was not under investigation, once on the phone and once during a dinner that had been “arranged.”
Trump initially claimed in the interview that Comey asked for the dinner to ask to stay on as FBI director. Comey did not need to do that. He was appointed to a 10-year term in 2013.
The White House claimed Wednesday that morale was low at the FBI and was also a reason behind Comey’s dismissal. That, however, was disputed by Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who said at a congressional hearing Thursday that Comey had the full confidence of the bureau.
On Wednesday, in brief remarks in the Oval Office, Trump told reporters he fired Comey “because he wasn’t doing a good job, simply. He was not doing a good job.”
Trump abruptly relieved Comey of his duties Tuesday. The reasoning the White House officially gave — in writing — was Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation based on a review by the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. But that was not true. In fact, Rosenstein threatened to resign after the White House tried to pin Comey’s firing on him.
Donald Trump was determined to fire Comey, whether there was justification or not. Rosenstein didn’t originate the idea of firing Comey. That was all Trump.
All of this makes the statements issued by the White House on Tuesday a lie. Not unclear. Not incomplete. A lie. A pernicious lie intended to create a false narrative.
If President Donald Trump orchestrated the decision to fire the Director of the FBI to subvert or undermine the integrity of investigations into the Trump campaign’s possible coordination with Russia, it may amount to an obstruction of justice, according to law scholars.