Donald Trump says he fired FBI chief James Comey because 'the Russia thing with Trump is a made-up story'

President issues latest explanation for dismissal of agency director

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The Independent US

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.

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."

That unknown person was acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who was herself later fired for failing to defend and implement the first of Mr Trump's executive orders relating to a Muslim travel ban.