Trump told Russians firing 'nut job' FBI director eased probe pressure: NYT

Photo-montage montrant le président américain Donald Trump (d) et l'ex-directeur du FBI James Comey
Drew Angerer, Jim WATSON (AFP/Archives)
Washington Post reports senior White House aide 'person of interest' in Russia probe

US President Donald Trump told Russian officials that his firing of former FBI director James B. Comey, who he referred to as "a real nut job", had taken "great pressure" off of him with regards to an investigation into his administration's ties with Moscow, the New York Times reported Friday.

The Times cites a document read to the paper by an unnamed US official which summarizes the scandal-ridden May 10 Oval Office meeting between Trump, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Moscow's ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak.

"I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job," Trump is quoted as saying, according to the document. "I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off."

"I’m not under investigation." Trump added.

The conversation took place just one day after Comey's shock dismissal, which triggered accusations that the president was trying to obstruct the FBI's probe into whether his campaign colluded with Russia to tilt the November election his way.

HO (RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY/AFP)

In an explosive report that was immediately denied by the Trump administration, the Times reported earlier this week that the president had urged Comey to drop an investigation into the Russia ties of his sacked national security adviser Michael Flynn.

"I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," the memo quotes Trump as saying, according to the newspaper which cited a memo summarizing their February 14 meeting.

"He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go," Trump allegedly said.

Flynn, a former military intelligence chief, had been forced out of his White House job the day before Trump's meeting with Comey over concerns about his contacts with Russian officials.

It later emerged that Flynn was suspected by the Justice Department as having become vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported Friday that the probe into possible collusion between the Trump camp and Russia had reached the highest levels of the president's administration, with investigators reportedly pegging a current White House official as a significant person of interest.

JIM WATSON (AFP/File)

The report cites unnamed "people" familiar with the matter as saying that the person of interest is someone "close to the president", adding that the investigation has entered a more active phase and will likely accelerate in the coming weeks.

Trump has consistently rejected any suggestion of collusion between his camp and Moscow as "fake news," declaring himself on Thursday the victim of the "greatest witch hunt" in American political history and denying the allegations brought against him.

"There is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself, and the Russians -- zero," Trump told reporters.



On Wednesday, the US Department of Justice named former FBI head Robert Mueller -- a widely-respected figure who headed the bureau for the decade after the 9/11 attacks -- to lead a special counsel investigating the allegations.

The special counsel is empowered to conduct the investigation independent of the Justice Department, without being required to consult with or keep informed the attorney general or deputy attorney generals on the course of the probe.

It is also authorized to prosecute any crimes unearthed by the investigation.

The White House on Friday predicted that the investigation would back up Trump's account.

"As the president has stated before -- a thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity," said spokesman Sean Spicer.

(Staff with agencies)

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