Donald Trump has admitted the FBI's investigation into alleged Russia ties among his associates was a factor in his firing of director James Comey.
At first, a Justice Department memo released by the White House suggested Mr Comey was fired for his poor handling of the bureau’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
But the President told NBC's Lester Holt on Thursday night he had already decided to sack Mr Comey before his deputy attorney general recommended it, adding by way of explanation that "this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story".
Mr Trump, speaking about the Russia probe, also said Mr Comey was "the wrong man for that position" and "I want that thing to be absolutely done properly".
Mr Comey had been leading the investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the presidential election and claims of ties between Mr Trump's associates and the Kremlin.
He had also led the probe into the email practices of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who blamed him in part for her defeat.
Mr Trump told NBC: "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 have won.
"And the reason they should have won it is the electoral college is almost impossible for a Republican to win. 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."
Asked whether he was "angry" with Mr Comey because of the Russia investigation, Mr Trump said: "I just want somebody that's competent. As far as I'm concerned, I want that thing to be absolutely done properly."
He added: "Look, I want to find out if there was a problem with an election having to do with Russia. Or, by the way, anybody else. Any other country. And I want that to be so strong and so good. And I want it to happen. I also want to have a really competent, capable director. He's not. He's a showboat."
Mr Trump reiterated his position that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin.
The biggest names involved in the Trump-Russia investigation
The biggest names involved in the Trump-Russia investigation
1/11 Paul Manafort
Mr Manafort is a Republican strategist and former Trump campaign manager. He resigned from that post over questions about his extensive lobbying overseas, including in Ukraine where he represented pro-Russian interests.
2/11 Mike Flynn
Mr Flynn was named as Trump's national security adviser but was forced to resign from his post for inappropriate communication with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. He had misrepresented a conversation he had with Mr Kislyak to Vice President Mike Pence, telling him wrongly that he had not discussed sanctions with the Russian.
3/11 Sergey Kislyak
Mr Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US, is at the centre of the web said to connect President Donald Trump's campaign with Russia.
4/11 Roger Stone
Mr Stone is a former Trump adviser who worked on the political campaigns of Richard Nixon, George HW Bush, and Ronald Reagan. Mr Stone claimed repeatedly in the final months of the campaign that he had backchannel communications with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and that he knew the group was going to dump damaging documents to the campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton - which did happen. Mr Stone also had contacts with the hacker Guccier 2.0 on Twitter, who claimed to have hacked the DNC and is linked to Russian intelligence services.
5/11 Jeff Sessions
The US attorney general was forced to recuse himself from the Trump-Russia investigation after it was learned that he had lied about meeting with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
6/11 Carter Page
Mr Page is a former advisor to the Trump campaign and has a background working as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch. Mr Page met with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Mr Page had invested in oil companies connected to Russia and had admitted that US Russia sanctions had hurt his bottom line.
7/11 Jeffrey "JD" Gorden
Mr Gordon met with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 Republian National Convention to discuss how the US and Russia could work together to combat Islamist extremism should then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump win the election. The meeting came days before a massive leak of DNC emails that has been connected to Russia.
8/11 Jared Kushner
Mr Kushner is President Donald Trump's son-in-law and a key adviser to the White House. He met with a Russian banker appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in December. Mr Kushner has said he did so in his role as an adviser to Mr Trump while the bank says he did so as a private developer. Mr Kushner has also volunteered to testify in the Senate about his role helping to arrange meetings between Trump advisers and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
9/11 James Comey
Mr Comey was fired from his post as head of the FBI by President Donald Trump. The timing of Mr Comey's firing raised questions around whether or not the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign may have played a role in the decision.
10/11 Preet Bharara
Mr Bahara refused, alongside 46 other US district attorney's across the country, to resign once President Donald Trump took office after previous assurances from Mr Trump that he would keep his job. Mr Bahara had been heading up several investigations including one into one of President Donald Trump's favorite cable television channels Fox News. Several investigations would lead back to that district, too, including those into Mr Trump's campaign ties to Russia, and Mr Trump's assertion that Trump Tower was wiretapped on orders from his predecessor.
11/11 Sally Yates
Ms Yates, a former Deputy Attorney General, was running the Justice Department while President Donald Trump's pick for attorney general awaited confirmation. Ms Yates was later fired by Mr Trump from her temporary post over her refusal to implement Mr Trump's first travel ban. She had also warned the White House about potential ties former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to Russia after discovering those ties during the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign's connections to Russia.
Mr Holt asked the President whether he had considered the "optics" of firing the man leading a probe into alleged Russia links the day before that country's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, was due to meet him in the Oval Office.
Mr Trump said: "I never thought about it.It was set up uh a while ago and frankly, I could have waited but what difference does it make? I'm not looking for cosmetics. I'm looking to do a great job for the country."
The President also re-stated what he had told the outgoing FBI director in his termination letter — that Mr Comey had told him three times he was not personally under investigation.
He and Mr Comey "had a very nice dinner, and at that time he told me, ‘You are not under investigation,’ which I knew anyway," he said in the NBC interview. "Then during a phone call he said it, and then during another phone call he said it. In one case I called him, and in once case he called me."
Mr Trump claimed Mr Comey asked to have dinner "because he wanted to stay on" as director. People close to the now-ex director denied this was the case in interviews with NBC.
During a White House briefing, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she did not view it as a conflict of interest that Mr Comey told the President he was not under an investigation at a meeting where the FBI director was also asking to remain head of the bureau.
In the NBC interview, Mr Trump also defended his decision to wait 18 days to fire former national security adviser Mike Flynn after he was warned over the general's contact with Russia's ambassador to the US. He said: "This man has served for many years, he’s a general, He’s, in my opinion, a very good person.
"I believed it’d be very unfair to hear from somebody we don’t even know and immediately fire them."Reuse content