President Donald Trump was very blunt with Russian officials — and contradicted his own White House’s narrative — about why he fired FBI Director James Comey, according to a new report by Matt Apuzzo, Maggie Haberman, and Matthew Rosenberg for the New York Times.
“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump reportedly said. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” He added, “I’m not under investigation.”
The quote comes from a document that summarized a meeting between Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office, one day after he fired Comey. The document was read by an unnamed American official to the Times.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer didn’t dispute the account to the Times, instead telling the newspaper that Comey harmed the president’s work with Russia.
“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 said. “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.”
Comey’s termination drew national scrutiny because Trump fired the FBI director right as the agency was investigating whether his presidential campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election.
The quote, if it holds up, essentially confirms that Trump was motivated by the FBI investigation to fire Comey — an act that could amount to obstruction of justice.
This isn’t necessarily news. Trump had already told NBC News anchor Lester Holt that “this Russia thing” was on his mind when he fired Comey. The White House had claimed that Trump fired Comey due to the FBI’s mishandling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, but Trump sharply contradicted that narrative with his own comments during a nationally televised interview.
The quote just adds on to the evidence against Trump: Not only was it made to Russian officials, but it seems to be just the latest example of the president outright admitting to obstruction of justice.