President Trump was hit with another set of Russia-related allegations late Friday moments after departing on his first foreign trip as commander-in-chief, with one report claiming the president trash-talked James Comey in a meeting with Moscow dignitaries and another saying the Russia probe has reached a current White House official.
The New York Times reported that Trump called ousted FBI Director Comey “crazy” and “a real nut job” during a May meeting with Russian officials at the White House – and said firing the top cop had relieved “great pressure” on him.
“I just fired the head of the FBI,” Trump, according to a document read to the Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
The comments, allegedly made one day after Trump abruptly fired Comey, could fuel allegations Trump got rid of him because of the investigation into possible collusion between his 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.
On May 10, Trump hosted Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, along with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer did not deny Trump made the comment but instead blamed the media on Friday for pulling focus from national security issues.
“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.
“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.”
Trump has strongly denied any collusion between his 2016 campaign and Russia and has rejected allegations that he pressured Comey to drop a related investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn – saying “the entire thing has been a witch hunt.”
The Times report, and another in The Washington Post, surfaced as Trump was en route to Saudi Arabia for the first stop on his overseas tour that will take him through the Middle East and Europe. The trip is seen by some analysts as a chance for Trump to hit reset after more than a week of intense controversy in Washington in the wake of the Comey firing.
But the new claims could make that reset more difficult.
On the heels of a special counsel being named to oversee the Russia probe, the Post report late Friday said law enforcement officials looking into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign have identified a senior White House adviser as a significant person of interest.
Sources close to the investigation told the Post that the current White House official is someone very near Trump, but did not identify the individual.
The sources added, however, that overall the investigation is still focused on people who previously worked with the Trump campaign and administration but are not part of it now – namely former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Spicer said in response to the Post report, “as the President has stated before – a thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity.”
Trump personally denied any Russian collusion during a press conference Thursday. And as he stood by the decision to fire Comey, citing – among other factors – his unpopularity in Washington.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Friday also stood by a memo he wrote castigating Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe. That memo was cited as part of the rationale for firing Comey, though Trump apparently was looking to remove Comey before Rosenstein drafted his memo.
Fox Business Network’s Blake Burman contributed to this report.