At a meeting where President Donald Trump reportedly called fired FBI Director James Comey a "nut job," he was trying to express his frustration at being "hamstrung" in finding ways to cooperate with Russia, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said.
In an interview aired Sunday on ABC News' "This Week," McMaster deflected a question on whether the Comey diss was accurately reported.
"I don't remember exactly what the president said," McMaster said. "And, the notes that they apparently have, I do not think are a direct transcript.
"The gist of the conversation was that the president feels as if he is hamstrung in his ability to work with Russia to find areas of cooperation because this has been obviously so much in the news."
McMaster said he did not know beforehand Trump was going to bring up Comey's firing.
"But as I mentioned, he raised it in the context of explaining that that he has been, he feels, as if he's been unable to find areas of cooperation with Russia, even as he confronts them in key areas where they're being disruptive, like Syria for example," McMaster said.
"The subversive activities across Europe. Their support for, not only the Assad regime, but for Iran and its activities across the Middle East."
McMaster said the real purpose of the conversation was to confront Russia on topics such as Ukraine and Syria – and find ways to cooperate, for example, on counterterrorism and the fight against ISIS.
"And so, the intent of that conversation was to say, 'What I'd like to do is move beyond all of the Russia news, so that we can find areas of cooperation,'" he said.
Asked whether he agrees with White House press secretary Sean Spicer that Comey was "grandstanding" and "politicizing," McMaster replied "what's been hurting our ability to deal with Russia more than any other factor has been Russia's behavior."
"But since President Trump has taken action in Syria, we think that there may be opportunities to find areas of cooperation in places like Ukraine, in places like Syria in particular," he said.
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