President Donald Trump told Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting that firing "nut job" FBI director James Comey relieved "great pressure" on him, the New York Times reported Friday.
The Times reported the comments were from a document that summarized the May 10 meeting with Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyakon – and which was read to the Times.
"I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job," Trump was documented saying, the Times reported. "I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off."
"I’m not under investigation," he added.
According to the Times, the White House document was based on notes taken from inside the Oval Office that's been circulated as the official account of the meeting.
An unnamed official read quotes from the document to the Times; a second unnamed official confirmed the outlines of the discussion, the newspaper reported.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer didn't dispute the account.
In a statement, he said Comey had put unnecessary pressure on the president’s ability to conduct diplomacy with Russia on matters such as Syria, Ukraine and the Islamic State.
"By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia," Spicer said, reiterating criticism that the president also leveled at Comey in an interview with NBC News.
"The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it. Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations.'"
According to the Times,a third unnamed U.S. official briefed on the meeting defended the president, saying Trump was using a negotiating tactic when he told Lavrov about the "pressure" he was under.
That official suggested the tactic was meant to create a sense of obligation with Russian officials and to coax concessions out of Lavrov — on Syria, Ukraine and other issues — by saying Russian meddling in last year's election had created political problems for the president, the Times reported.
At first, the White House said Trump fired Comey based on the recommendation of the Justice Department, and because of Comey's handling of the FBI probe of Hillary Clinton last year. Officials said it had nothing to do with the Russia investigation.
But Trump said something different in an interview with NBC News, saying: "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."
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