— -- President Donald Trump said today he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he made the decision to fire FBI director James Comey, despite the official administration line that Comey’s removal had nothing to do with it.
Until this evening, the White House had publicly denied that Trump was considering the handling of the investigation into his campaign’s possible ties with Russia when he decided to fire Comey.
“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,'" Trump said Thursday during an interview with NBC News.
However, later in the interview, he said that he backs a full investigation into Russian meddling in the election.
“I want that thing to be absolutely done properly,” Trump said, but later adding, “There's no collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians. The other thing is the Russians did not affect the vote.”
Earlier this week, Trump tweeted that the Russia investigation was a "total hoax" and a "taxpayer charade."
There was a hint from day one that Comey's firing had something to do with the Russia investigation. In his letter to Comey on Tuesday, Trump wrote "While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau."
During the NBC News interview, the president was asked about these interactions, and Trump said again that he had directly asked if he was under investigation.
Trump responded, "I said, 'If it's possible would you let me know am I under investigation?' He said, 'You are not under investigation."
The first explanation from the White House for Comey’s firing was that Trump made the decision after Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote letters to him recommending Comey’s removal. The letters cited Comey’s bungling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of private email servers.
“I cannot defend the Director's handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton's emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken,” Rosenstein wrote.
In a visit to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence dismissed questions about the Russia probe, saying “that is not what this is about.”
“The American people expect a president to act on the recommendations of those within the administration who are charged with oversight. In this case, the deputy attorney general provides the oversight to the federal bureau of investigation,” Pence said yesterday. “When [Rosenstein] brought the recommendation to the president, that the director of the FBI should be removed, President Trump provided the kind of strong and decisive leadership the American people have come to be accustomed from him, and he took the action necessary to remove director Comey.”
But Trump made clear in today's interview that the recommendation had nothing to do with it.
“I was going to fire Comey,” Trump said. “Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.”