President Donald Trump told the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a May 10 meeting in the Oval Office that by firing former FBI Director James Comey he'd relieved himself of “great pressure.”
“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” the New York Times reported Trump as saying, citing a synopsis of the meeting that it said an American official read to the news organization. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off.”
Scrutiny of potential collusion between members of the Trump team and Russia intensified after the president dismissed Comey and has unleashed speculation that he did so to stop the FBI's investigation.
“I'm not under investigation,” the Times reported Trump as saying during the Oval Office meeting, itself a nexus of controversy after claims that Trump revealed classified information about ISIS to his guests and unauthorized photographs taken by a Russian news service emerged of the gathering. The White House had denied the U.S. press corps access to the meeting.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer placed the blame for Comey's dismissal on the former FBI director and tried to shift the focus away from the ongoing investigation, that includes several cyber issues and is now in the hands of newly appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and on to the leaks which have rocked the administration.
“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 in a statement. “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.”