UPDATED with Nightly News interview broadcast: Ousted FBI director James Comey was a “showboat” and “grandstander” who needed to go, President Donald Trump said in an exclusive interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt.
Trump acknowledged he’d asked Comey whether he was under investigation for alleged ties to Russia’s effort to interfere with the 2016 election.
Asked why his letter firing Comey included a sentence in which he claimed Comey said three times Trump was not under investigation, the president responded “because he told me.”
“I actually asked him” if I was under investigation, Trump said, noting that he spoke with Comey on that subject three times. Once it was over dinner – which Trump said Comey asked for because he wanted to keep his job, though Trump almost immediately walked that back.
The other two times Trump says Comey assured him he was not under investigation by the FBI came via phone.
“I said, if it’s possible would you let me know, ‘Am I under investigation?’,” Trump said of one of those phone calls. “He said, ‘You are not under investigation’.”
When Holt noted that claim seems to contradict Comey having said the FBI has an ongoing investigation into possible Trump campaign associates’ contacts with Russian agents working to impact the election outcome, Trump responded:
“I know I’m not under investigation. Me personally. I’m not talking about campaign, or anything else.”
Trump brushed aside Holt’s question about the timing of the firing, which has raised eyebrows, coming as it did while Comey was overseeing an investigation into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russians who meddled in the election.
“There was no good time to do it,” Trump said. “And, in fact, I when decided to just do it, I said to myself, ‘You know, this Russia Thing , with Trump and Russia, is a made-up story.’ It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost and election. They should have won, and the reason they should have won it is, the electoral college is almost impossible for a Republican to win. Very hard. Because you start off at such a disadvantage. So everybody thinks they should have won the election.”
“When I did this now I said I probably, maybe, will confuse people, maybe I’ll lengthen the time [of the FBI investigation]. In my opinion it should have been over a long time ago, because it’s an excuse.”
Holt asked if his having tweeted that the “Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax” adding, “when will this taxpayer funded charade end?” he is sending a signal to prospective new FBI director to “lay off.”
Trump rejected that idea, saying “We have to get back to work but I want to get to the bottom… if Russia hacked, if Russia did anything having to go with our election, I want to know about it.”
Holt informed him multiple intelligence agencies already have confirmed that did, in fact, happen.
Undeterred, Trump continued:
“I will tell you this, if Russia, or anybody else, is trying to interfere with our elections, I think it’s a horrible thing and I want to get to the bottom of it. And I want to make sure it will never happen again.”
NBC News will air more of the interview on Friday’s Today show.