President Donald Trump told Russian diplomats in an Oval Office meeting earlier this month that firing former FBI Director James Comey, eased the “great pressure” on him from the bureau’s investigation into alleged Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election, the New York Times reported Friday.
Some have alleged that Trump fired Comey in order to impede the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the election.
According to the Times, Trump told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the Russian Ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, “I just fired the head of the FBI.”
“He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump said, according to the Times. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
The president added, “I’m not under investigation.”
The Times cited a White House document that “has been circulated as the official account of the meeting.” They wrote that it was read to them by an American official while another “confirmed the broad outlines of the discussion.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer “did not dispute the account” of the meeting, according to the Times, arguing that the investigation put pressure on the president’s “ability to conduct diplomacy 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 told the Times. “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.”
The Times also reported that another government official argued that the president “was using a negotiating tactic” when he told the diplomats about the “pressure” he was under politically:
The idea, the official suggested, was to create a sense of obligation with Russian officials and to coax concessions out of Mr. Lavrov — on Syria, Ukraine and other issues — by saying that Russian meddling in last year’s election had created enormous political problems for Mr. Trump.
The Washington Post reported last week that Trump disclosed highly classified intelligence to the Russian diplomats during the meeting.