Many Republicans — from White House staffers to members of Congress to conservative pundits — have been insisting for two days now, despite widespread reports, that President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey had nothing to do with Comey’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election.
Now, in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump has admitted it did.
Asked by Holt about the White House’s initial story that he fired Comey because of a recommendation by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Trump said, “I was gonna fire him regardless of the recommendation.”
In explaining how he made up his mind, the president directly brought up the Russia case, calling it a “made-up story”:
He [Rosenstein] made a recommendation, he’s highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy. The Democrats like him, the Republicans like him. He made a recommendation. But regardless of [the] recommendation, I was going to fire Comey. Knowing there was no good time do it!
And in fact when I decided to just do it I said to myself, I said, “You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”
And the reason they should’ve won it is, the electoral college is almost impossible for a Republican to win, it’s very hard, because you start off at such a disadvantage. So everybody was thinking they should have won the election. This was an excuse for having lost an election.
Comey publicly confirmed that he was investigating Trump allies’ links to Russia back in March. A recent Wall Street Journal report by Shane Harris and Carol Lee claims that the probe has gotten rather serious, with Comey receiving daily updates and being “concerned by information showing possible evidence of collusion,” according to “people with knowledge of the matter.” But Trump has publicly dismissed the allegations in the investigation as “fake news” and asked when “this taxpayer funded charade” will “end”:
The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2017
Reports over the past two days have widely claimed that anger at the Russia probe was Trump’s true motivation in firing Comey, but it is still remarkable to hear it from the president himself.
When Holt then pressed the president on the topic, he maintained he wanted the investigation “to be absolutely done properly.” Since he was concerned the firing would “confuse people,” he went on, perhaps he would even “lengthen” the investigation.
Look, let me tell you, as far as I’m concerned I want that thing [the Russia investigation] to be absolutely done properly. When I did this now I said, “I probably, maybe, will confuse people, maybe I’ll expand that, you know, I’ll lengthen the time” — because it should be over with, in my opinion it should’ve been over with a long time ago, because all it is is an excuse. But I said to myself, “I might even lengthen out the investigation.”