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Report: Trump tells Russians Comey was a ‘nut job’

  • President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh

  • FILE- In this March 7, 2017, file photo, then-Deputy Attorney General-designate Rod Rosenstein, listens on Capitol Hill in Washington, during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Rosenstein has told members of Congress he stands by a memo he wrote that preceded the president's firing of FBI Director James Comey. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) J. Scott Applewhite

  • Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 18, 2017, for a closed-door meeting with Senators a day after appointing former FBI Director Robert Mueller to oversee the investigation into possible ties between Russia and President Donald Trump's campaign. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) Jacquelyn Martin

  • FILE - In this Aug. 21, 2013, file photo, then-FBI director Robert Mueller speaks during an interview at FBI headquarters in Washington. The Justice Department on May 17, 2017, appointed Mueller as a special counsel to oversee a federal investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File) Evan Vucci

  • FILE - In this May 8, 2017, file photo, then-FBI Director James Comey speaks to the Anti-Defamation League National Leadership Summit in Washington. The White House is disputing a report that President Donald Trump asked Comey to shut down an investigation into ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File) Susan Walsh

  • House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 18, 2017. Ryan said of the special counsel appointment of Robert Mueller was consistent with his goal of ensuring that "thorough and independent investigations are allowed to follow the facts wherever they may lead." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. Scott Applewhite

  • Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, May 19, 2017, after members of the House of Representatives were briefed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about the controversy over President Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. Scott Applewhite



Associated Press
Friday, May 19, 2017

During his meeting with Russian officials last week, President Donald Trump said recently fired FBI Director James Comey was a “nut job” whose ouster relieved “great pressure” on him, according to a report Friday in the New York Times.

The Times cited notes from a May 10 Oval Office meeting, the day after Trump fired Comey.

Separately, the Washington Post reported Friday that the FBI investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign was moving closer to the White House. Law enforcement officials now consider a senior Trump adviser a “person of interest” in the probe, the Post reported, citing people familiar with the matter. The report did not name the adviser.

The developments were a blow to White House efforts to tamp down interest in the Russia investigation as Trump and his staff boarded Air Force One for Saudi Arabia, first stop on his first foreign trip as president. The details of his comments to the Russians would seem to bolster theories that Trump fired Comey in an effort to choke off the Russia investigation.

Earlier this week, the Justice Department appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to take over the federal investigation in an effort to re-establish independence from the White House.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told Congress Friday he stands by a memo he wrote bluntly criticizing Comey. But he made clear it was not his intention for Trump or other White House officials to use the document to justify firing Comey, which is what they have done.

In closed-door meetings with lawmakers on Thursday and Friday, Rosenstein said he wrote the memo after Trump told him one day before the May 9 firing that he wanted to dismiss Comey. Rosenstein said that though he was personally fond of Comey, “I thought it was appropriate to seek a new leader.”

The Justice Department on Friday issued the text of Rosenstein’s opening remarks for the briefings on Capitol Hill. That was two days after Rosenstein named Mueller as a special counsel to investigate possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Trump has said he plans to nominate a new FBI director soon, and that had been expected before his departure. However, the White House said there would be no announcement Friday.

The appointment of Mueller as special counsel has drawn generally favorable comments from Democrats and from some Republicans as well. But lawmakers at both congressional sessions expressed frustration that Rosenstein would say little in answer to their questions about his actions – or others’ – before Comey’s firing.

“There was considerable frustration in the room,” said Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., a member of the Armed Services Committee. “This renewed my confidence that we should not have confidence in this administration. I don’t think (Rosenstein) did a lot to bolster our confidence in him today.”

The White House has struggled since Comey’s firing to explain the chain of events that led to it and who exactly made the decision. Trump has insisted at times that the decision was his alone, but he also has pointed – as recently as Thursday – to the “very strong” recommendation from Rosenstein.

Rosenstein made it abundantly clear to the lawmakers that he drafted his memo only after Trump told him of his plans to dismiss the FBI director.

“My memorandum is not a statement of reasons to justify a for-cause termination,” he said. But he added, “I wrote it. I believe it. I stand by it.”

The memo focuses on Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, particularly the FBI director’s decision to divulge details to the public at various junctures. Rosenstein denounced that as “profoundly wrong and unfair.”