President Donald Trump told Russian diplomats that firing the “nut job” FBI director had relieved “great pressure” on him, The New York Times reported Friday, citing a White House official’s written account of the Oval Office meeting.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that a senior White House official is considered a “significant person of interest” in the investigation of possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, indicating that the probe is “reaching into the highest levels of government.”
Also Friday, former FBI Director James Comey said he would testify in open session before Senate Intelligence Committee.
The latest developments broke as Trump arrived overseas for his first international trip as president — to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican, a NATO summit in Brussels and a G7 summit in Italy.
The New York Times reported that Trump called Comey “crazy” and “a real nut job” in a May 10 meeting with Russian diplomats. The newspaper said he then told Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador that he “faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” Later, the president told the diplomats: “I’m not under investigation.”
The newspaper cited a document that was used to summarize the meeting in the Oval Office. A White House official had read the summary to the Times and another had confirmed the broad outlines of the discussion, the newspaper reported, adding that Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, “did not dispute the account.”
However, Spicer contended that Comey had undercut Trump’s ability to conduct diplomacy with Russia. Another unnamed official maintained that the president’s remarks to the Russian ambassador was a negotiating tactic to create a sense of obligation.
Some lawmakers have raised the possibility that Trump might have obstructed justice in firing Comey in an attempt to hamper the Russia probe. At least one strengthened that claim after the Times report.
“This is what OBSTRUCTION looks like,” Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said on Twitter.
After Comey was fired, the Justice Department appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to serve as special counsel to lead the investigation into Russian meddling. The Washington Post reported that a White House adviser who is “close to the president” is now under scrutiny in the probe.
The Post said the revelation comes as the investigation appears to be entering a more open and active phase, with investigators conducting interviews and using a grand jury to issue subpoenas. The newspaper reported that the “Gang of Eight” — representatives and senators with access to the most classified information — were notified of the change in tempo and focus in the investigation at a classified briefing this week.
Among the Trump administration officials who have acknowledged contacts with Russian officials include Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The newspaper said investigators also remain focused on two Trump allies who are no longer affiliated with the administration or campaign: former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Earlier this week, multiple news outlets reported that associates of Comey said the president asked the former FBI director to “let it go,” referring to the investigation of Flynn.