US President Donald Trump ran into resistance for calling ousted FBI chief James Comey a “showboat”, an attack that was swiftly contradicted by top US 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 Tuesday, Trump appeared to try to underscore that Comey’s dismissal was about his performance at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and not about the Russia probe, Reuters reports.
Trump faces accusations from Democrats that he fired Comey to hinder the FBI investigation into US 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, the news agency said.
“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 Thursday, 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.
Comey had “broad support” from the rank and file “and still does to this day”, McCabe said.
He 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 told the senators.
Officials familiar with internal FBI politics said Trump’s action has hurt morale and would make it hard to attract and retain staff.
Trump had been expected to soon visit FBI headquarters, but MSNBC 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.
Former Republican Representative Mike Rogers is being considered as a candidate to replace Comey, a senior White House official said. The nominee must be confirmed by the US Senate.
Moscow has denied interference in the election and the Trump administration denies allegations of collusion with Russia.
Trump said in the NBC television 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”, and 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 Thursday, 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.”
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