Trump attacks on fired FBI chief meet swift resistance
WASHINGTONPresident Donald Trump on May 11 ran into resistance for calling ousted FBI chief James Comey a “showboat,” an attack that was swiftly contradicted by top U.S. senators and the acting FBI leader, who pledged that an investigation into possible Trump campaign ties to Russia would proceed with vigor.
In his first interview since firing Comey on May 9, Trump appeared to try to underscore that Comey’s dismissal was about his performance at the FBI and not about the Russia probe. Trump faces accusations from Democrats that he fired Comey to hinder the FBI investigation into U.S. intelligence agency allegations that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election to benefit Trump. The probe has hung over Trump’s presidency since he took office in January and threatens to overwhelm his policy priorities. “He’s a showboat. He’s a grandstander,” Trump told NBC News. “The FBI has been in turmoil. You know that, I know that, everybody knows that.” Trump’s characterization was odds with that of the top Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
At a hearing on May 11, the Republican chairman of the panel, Richard Burr, and the top Democrat, Mark Warner, praised Comey. Warner said he was offended at Trump’s remarks. Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, testifying in place of Comey, contradicted Trump’s appraisal of turmoil at the FBI, saying that Comey had “broad support” from the rank and file “and still does to this day.”
A White House spokeswoman on May 10 morning had said that Trump was expected to soon visit FBI headquarters, but MSNBC later reported that plan had been thrown out after agency officials told the White House that Trump would not be greeted warmly following his firing of Comey. Several candidates are being considered to replace Comey, a senior White House official said, including Mike Rogers, a former Republican representative; Trey Gowdy, a Republican representative and former federal prosecutor; Alice Fisher, assistant attorney general in the George W. Bush administration; and Ray Kelly, former commissioner of the New York Police Department.
The nominee must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. McCabe promised to tell senators of any White House meddling into the agency’s probe on Russia. Democrats have called for a special counsel to look into the matter. “It is my opinion and belief that the FBI will continue to pursue this investigation vigorously and completely,” McCabe said. Trump said in the interview that he never pressured Comey into dropping the FBI probe, adding:
“If Russia did anything, I want to know that.” Trump said there was no “collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians,” but that “the Russians did not affect the vote.” His explanation of why he fired Comey ran counter to previous administration explanations of Comey’s dismissal. The White House and Vice President Mike Pence had said Trump fired Comey on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and No. 2 Justice Department official Rod Rosenstein. On May 11, Trump said he would have taken the action regardless.
“I was going to fire Comey. My decision,” Trump said. “I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.” Trump said he had asked Comey once over dinner and twice by telephone. “I said: ‘If it’s possible, would you let me know, am I under investigation?’” Trump told NBC. “He said: ‘You are not under investigation.’” Trump said the dinner with Comey was at the White House and Comey wanted to discuss staying on as FBI chief. “We had a very nice dinner. And at that time, he told me: ‘You are not under investigation