In a banner week for embarrassing (and potentially incriminating) leaks from the Trump administration, sources within the White House saved the best for last: On Friday, the New York Times reported that President Donald Trump quite literally told top Russian diplomats that firing FBI Director James Comey had relieved the “great pressure” of the bureau’s Russia investigation.
“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump told Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, according to a document read to Times reporters by an anonymous source. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Even in a news cycle that has frequently stretched the limits of credibility, the notion that Trump would boast of eliminating this “pressure” to Russian officials might seem inconceivable. But the Times notes that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer “did not dispute the account.” The document relaying this account was reportedly based on notes taken during the meeting.
In a statement replying to the Times article, Spicer said the “real story” is that someone leaked Trump’s conversation with Lavrov and Kislyak.
“By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage with negotiate with Russia,” said Spicer. “The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it.”
The Times report further undermines the official White House explanation for Comey’s firing — an explanation Trump has already personally contradicted several times over.
At first, the White House insisted that Trump had sacked Comey over his handling of the investigation into Clinton’s private email server, on the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. But Rosenstein’s memo criticizing Comey never explicitly recommended that he be axed, and Trump was soon publicly declaring that he had made his decision before the document was ever drafted.
Last week, during an interview with NBC News, Trump said he was going to terminate Comey “regardless of recommendation.” In the same interview, he blithely mentioned that the “made up story” about his campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia was on his mind when he made up his mind about the FBI director.
That disclosure was astonishing enough. But there’s something truly awe-inspiring about learning that the president of the United States, while under suspicion of helping a hostile foreign power rig the last presidential election, met with representatives of that nation’s government and bragged about how he had squashed an inquiry into the allegations. That’s next level.
Minutes after the Times broke the news of Trump’s boasting, the Washington Post reported that a “senior White House adviser” is being investigated as part of the Russia inquiry.