Washington:Donald Trump had asked his now—fired FBI director on three occasions whether he was the target of ongoing investigations, he said on Thursday, stoking allegations of presidential interference.
The US president also acknowledged that Russia was on his mind when he made the decision to sack James Comey, who had been heading a probe into suspected Russian influence in the 2016 election.
"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," he said in an interview with NBC, appearing to link Comey's firing with the investigation.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reported that Trump pressed Comey for a pledge of loyalty over dinner only a week after his inauguration, according to an account by two associates of the lawman.
Comey, they said, declined to make such a pledge but told Trump he would always give him "honesty".
The Times said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders disputed the account, saying Trump would "never even suggest the expectation of personal loyalty, only loyalty to our country and its great people".
The Times said it was not clear whether the dinner was the same one that Trump described in the NBC interview in which the president acknowledged asking Comey whether he was the subject of a counter—intelligence probe.
"I actually asked him, yes. I said, 'If it's possible would you let me know, am I under investigation?"
He said, You are not under investigation Trump recounted, repeating an assertion made when the White House announced Comey's firing on Tuesday.
"All I can tell you is, well I know what, I know that I'm not under investigation. Me. Personally. I'm not talking about campaigns. I'm not talking about anything else. I'm not under investigation."
The other two times Trump said he asked Comey whether he was under investigation were in telephone conversations.
Trump's comments to NBC raised questions about whether he had acted inappropriately and whether Comey had broken government guidelines in assuring him he was not under investigation.
US presidents are normally at pains to avoid any suggestion of interference or even commenting on ongoing investigations. The FBI typically does not confirm their existence.
Noted legal scholar Laurence Tribe told AFP that if Comey did indeed answer Trump's question, it would violate Department of Justice rules and "would be unthinkably unethical and unprofessional in this situation".
Trump also said that at the dinner, he and Comey discussed whether the US top cop would stay in his role and continue his ten—year term.
Asking such a question "would come close to bribery, or at least obstruction of justice, which Comey would've had to be an idiot to fall for by offering the assurance sought," Tribe said.
The White House rejected the suggestion that the exchange was inappropriate. "I don't see it as a conflict of interest", Sanders said.
In the interview, Trump insisted that he always intended to fire Comey, undercutting the initial White House explanation that he acted on the recommendation of top justice officials who criticized the FBI chief's handling of a probe into Hillary Clinton's emails.
"I was going to fire him regardless of recommendations," said the president. "He's a showboat, he's a grandstander".
Updated Date: May 12, 2017 13:51 PM