President Donald Trump said he had already made up his mind to fire FBI Director James Comey before receiving guidance from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein earlier this week, in contrast to statements from White House officials on when the decision was made.
"Regardless of [the] recommendation, I was going to fire Comey," Mr. Trump said in an interview Thursday with NBC News.
That detail contradicted his White House staff, who said repeatedly on Tuesday and Wednesday that Mr. Trump didn't make his final decision until receiving a letter on Tuesday from Mr. Rosenstein that was deeply critical of Mr. Comey.
Mr. Rosenstein met with Mr. Trump on Monday, where they discussed Mr. Comey's job performance. At the White House's prompting, Mr. Rosenstein Tuesday wrote a memo to the president detailing his concerns about the director's conduct. On Thursday, Mr. Rosenstein pressed the White House to correct what he felt was an inaccurate depiction of the events surrounding the firing, according to a person familiar with the conversation.
Mr. Trump's dismissal of Mr. Comey came amid signs that the FBI investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election, and possible ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia was intensifying, raising questions about the motives behind the firing. As a result, how and when Mr. Trump came to his decision to fire Mr. Comey have become central questions in the resulting uproar in Washington. Russia has denied interfering in the election, and Mr. Trump and his staff have dismissed allegations of Russian collusion.
The president's termination letter to Mr. Comey, sent Tuesday, cited memos he had received from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Mr. Rosenstein.
In the NBC interview, Mr. Trump also said he asked Mr. Comey on at least one occasion whether he was under investigation.
"I actually asked him, yes," Mr. Trump said in the interview. "I said, 'If it's possible will you let me know, am I under investigation?' He said, 'You are not under investigation.' "
In all, Mr. Trump said Mr. Comey told him three times that he wasn't under investigation, offering more details on the earlier statement in his letter firing the director that said Mr. Comey had informed him three times that he wasn't being probed.
Mr. Trump said one of the three times was at a dinner with Mr. Comey, which Mr. Trump said was requested by the director with the aim of keeping his job. The two other times were over the phone, one initiated by Mr. Comey and one by Mr. Trump, the president said. It was during one of those phone calls that Mr. Trump said he asked Mr. Comey questions about the investigation.
Mr. Comey couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
Write to Michael C. Bender at Mike.Bender@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 11, 2017 17:00 ET (21:00 GMT)