WASHINGTON — President Trump told a pair of Russian envoys that his abrupt decision to fire FBI Director James B. Comey – whom he described as “crazy, a real nut job” – had relieved “great pressure” on him because of the Russia investigation, according to a published report.

The timing of the report – as well as another detailing how investigators are now scrutinizing a highly placed White House official – underscored that Trump will get no respite from the growing swirl of scandals he faces in Washington even as he embarks on his first official trip overseas. The nine-day visit will take him to five countries in the Middle East and Europe.

On Friday, The New York Times quoted a White House memo that chronicled Trump’s meeting with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and its ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, in the Oval Office on May 10, the day after Comey was fired.

“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump told them, according to the Times. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

That statement would appear to constitute Trump’s most direct admission that he fired the FBI director in an attempt to affect the investigation.


The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, called the reported conversation “extremely troubling.” He asked Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, to subpoena the White House memo.

Some Republicans seemed equally astonished.

“Assuming it’s in context and assuming it’s accurate, it is a reckless thing for a president to say, particularly to Russian” officials, said Ari Fleischer, who routinely sat in on meetings with foreign dignitaries while serving as President George W. Bush’s press secretary.

“Did he really think dismissing Comey would get rid of the investigation?” Fleischer asked. “One, it doesn’t work like that. And two, it would be more than reckless if the president thought it worked like that, and that’s why he did it.”

Notes from Oval Office meetings and phone calls with foreign leaders are often written down by an aide in what are called MEMCONs, or memorandums of conversations. These are distributed over a classified computer system to senior officials or Cabinet members on a need-to-know basis. The memos can include quotes from the conversation.

Michael Allen, a former senior director on the National Security Council in the George W. Bush White House, said that transcripts of meetings with foreign leaders usually “are treated like the crown jewels.”

“This is an extraordinary release of what are intended to be private conversations,” Allen said.

Trump has repeatedly vented his frustration with the FBI investigation, denouncing it on Twitter this week as “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”

Another report from The Washington Post claimed the FBI now considers an aide who is close to Trump a person of interest. That person was not identified.

In a statement, White House press secretary Sean Spicer did not confirm or deny that a White House aide had been caught up in the FBI inquiry.

“As the president has stated before – a thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity,” Spicer said.

The Justice Department declined to comment. “As a matter of policy, we don’t comment on the existence or non-existence of investigations or targets of investigations,” said spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores.


Spicer, however, did not deny the substance of the Times story. Instead, he suggested that Trump’s comment about easing “great pressure” on him referred to his ability to improve relations with Russia.

“The president has always emphasized the importance of making deals with Russia as it relates to Syria, Ukraine, defeating (Islamic State) and other key issues for the benefit and safety of the American people,” Spicer said.

Comey’s “grandstanding and politicizing the investigation” had “created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia,” Spicer said.

He added, “Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations.”

The White House initially said Trump fired Comey because of a recommendation by Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general.

Trump later told NBC News that he would have fired Comey regardless of a Justice Department recommendation and that he had the “Russia thing” on his mind when he made the decision.

Trump has said repeatedly that he is not personally under investigation. He repeated that to reporters Thursday, but left room for the possibility with other members of his administration or his campaign.

“There’s no collusion between, certainly, myself and my campaign – but I can always speak for myself – and the Russians – zero,” he said. He appeared to mean that he could “only” speak for himself.

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