Trump: “Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey”

Developments on Day 112 of the Trump Administration:

Trump Destroys White House Line: I Fired Comey Because of Russia

Contradicting the White House line — and possibly admitting obstruction of justice — Donald Trump says he fired FBI Director James Comey because of the expanding investigation into links between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

After Trump suddenly dismissed Comey on Tuesday, in a letter delivered by Trump’s long-time personal bodyguard, the White House said in a hastily-constructed explanation that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had asked the President to remove the FBI Director.

However, Trump blew up that statement in a televised interview with NBC News on Thursday, “Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it.”

Read the partial transcript

He then pushed aside the White House pretext that Comey was fired for usurping authority over the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, saying instead:

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.

Asked if he was angry with Comey because of the Trump-Russia inquiry, the President replied, “I just want somebody that’s competent….As far as I’m concerned I want that thing to be absolutely done properly.”

Trump may also have caused further legal trouble with his explanation of a line in the letter firing Comey that the FBI Director had reassured the President on three occasions that he was not the subject of the investigation.

Trump said the assurances were given at a dinner at the White House and in two phone calls.

Legal experts said it is highly unusual for someone who might be the focus of an FBI inquiry to ask for confirmation, and that Trump may have acted improperly.

The President said, “I think [Comey] asked for the dinner.” But associates of the FBI director said it was Trump who issued the invitation and that Comey was wary of attending because he might appear to be too close to the White House during an investigation.

The encounter was on January 27, three days after the FBI interviewed Michael Flynn, then the National Security Advisor, about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. Acting Attorney Sally Yates had then warned the White House that it was open to Moscow’s blackmail because Flynn had not told the truth in the interview.

Trump said on Thursday that he did not act to remove Flynn — who only left in mid-February after his Russian links were revealed in a Washington Post article — because “my White House counsel, Don McGahn, came back to me and did not sound like an emergency”.

But after small talk at the January 27 dinner, Trump asked Comey for a pledge of loyalty, according to the FBI director. Comey said he replied that he would always be honest with Trump, but would not be “reliable” in the political sense.

The White House disputes the account, and Trump said in the NBC interview that the question of loyalty never arose.

The President said he made one of the two phone calls in which the Russia investigation was mentioned, and that Comey made the other.

Trump repeated in Thursday’s interview that there was no “collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians” and that “the Russians did not affect the vote”.

He maintained:

I have no investments in Russia, none whatsoever. I don’t have property in Russia. A lot of people thought I owned office buildings in Moscow. I don’t have property in Russia, and I am…in total compliance in every way.

Claimed statements by both of Trump’s sons, Eric and Donald, indicated that the family’s companies and projects have sought Russian investment.

Acting FBI Director McCabe Challenges White House Over Support for Comey

Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe says James Comey had the full confidence of his agents, rejecting a White House pretext for Comey’s dismissal.

McCabe said:

I hold Director Comey in the absolute highest regard. I have the highest respect for his considerable abilities and his integrity….

[He enjoys] broad support within the FBI and still does to this day….The majority, the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep, positive connection to Director Comey.

On Wednesday, trying to justify the abrupt firing, White House deputy press spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted the President “and the rest of the FBI” had lost confidence in Comey, claiming — without evidence — that the White House had heard from “countless” members of the bureau.

McCabe also refuted Sanders’ declaration that the Trump-Russia inquiry was “probably one of the smallest things” on the FBI’s plate.

“We consider it to be a highly significant investigation,” McCabe said.

“You cannot stop the men and the women of the FBI from doing the right thing,” he added.

McCabe also reiterated — in the context of the Trump-Comey conversations — that it is not the FBI’s standard practice to inform someone that he or she is not the target of an investigation.

Mexico: We Called Trump’s Bluff on NAFTA

Mexico hits back at Donald Trump’s boast that he is pressuring Mexico City and Canada into concessions on the North American Free Trade Agreement, saying they called his bluff on a threat to leave NAFTA.

“The message was: if you guys think we’re going to start negotiations with the trigger pulled on a US exit in six months, forget about it!” Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo told an audience at the Mexico Business Forum.

“If you do that, just get out already – because there’s no way we’re negotiating under those conditions,” Guajardo added.

Trump has repeatedly boasted that he was ready to leave NAFTA but stepped back when Canada and Mexico asked for renegotiation.

Canadian officials have said that White House staff called them to arrange a response which would block any peremptory Trump move to scrap the 25-year-old agreement, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau subsequently calling the US President.

Guajardo said the plan to trigger a U.S. withdrawal of NAFTA was done “in desperation, which occurs very frequently these days in those parts”.

Kushner Companies Pull Out of China Tour After Visa-for-Investment Furor

The real estate company owned by the family of Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House advisor, pulls out of presentations in China after furor over its visa-for-investment pitch.

Executives from Kushner Companies, including Jared Kushner’s sister Nicole Kushner Meyer, told China investors in presentations in Beijing and Shanghai last weekend that EB-5 visas could be obtained for input of at least $500,000 into a property development initiative worth almost $800 million in New Jersey. The objective is to raise $150 million in financing from China.

Congress has been considering changes to the EB-5 program, amid criticism that it favors wealthier foreigners, who can then seek permanent residency. Kushner Meyer told her audience that they should act quickly to invest in Kushner projects before the program was restricted.

She also referred to her brother’s position in the White House and included an image of Donald Trump.

The Chinese partner of Kushner Companies, the immigration agency Qiaowai, said on Friday that the meetings this month will proceed but no one from Kushner Companies will attend.