Re­port: Trump called Comey a ‘nut job’

Kingston Whig-Standard - - WORLD NEWS - ERIC TUCKER and ERICA WERNER

WASH­ING­TON — Dur­ing his meet­ing with Rus­sian of­fi­cials last week, U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said re­cently fired FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey was a “nut job” whose ouster re­lieved “great pres­sure” on him, ac­cord­ing to a re­port Fri­day in The New York Times.

The Times cited notes from a May 10 Oval Of­fice meet­ing, the day af­ter Trump fired Comey.

Sep­a­rately, The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported Fri­day that the FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pos­si­ble co-or­di­na­tion be­tween Rus­sia and the Trump pres­i­den­tial cam­paign was mov­ing closer to the White House. Law en­force­ment of­fi­cials now con­sider a se­nior Trump ad­viser a “per­son of in­ter­est” in the probe, the Post re­ported, cit­ing peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter. The re­port did not name the ad­viser.

The de­vel­op­ments were a blow to White House ef­forts to tamp down in­ter­est in the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion as Trump and his staff boarded Air Force One for Saudi Ara­bia, first stop on his first for­eign trip as pres­i­dent. The de­tails of his com­ments to the Rus­sians would seem to bol­ster the­o­ries that Trump fired Comey in an ef­fort to choke off the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Ear­lier this week, the Jus­tice Depart­ment ap­pointed for­mer FBI Di­rec­tor Robert Mueller to take over the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion in an ef­fort to re-es­tab­lish in­de­pen­dence from the White House.

Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein told Congress Fri­day he stands by a memo he wrote bluntly crit­i­ciz­ing Comey. But he made clear it was not his in­ten­tion for Trump or other White House of­fi­cials to use the doc­u­ment to jus­tify fir­ing Comey, which is what they have done.

In closed-door meet­ings with law­mak­ers on Thurs­day and Fri­day, Rosen­stein said he wrote the memo af­ter Trump told him one day be­fore the May 9 fir­ing that he wanted to dis­miss Comey. Rosen­stein said that though he was per­son­ally fond of Comey, “I thought it was ap­pro­pri­ate to seek a new leader.”

The Jus­tice Depart­ment on Fri­day is­sued the text of Rosen­stein’s open­ing re­marks for the brief­ings on Capi­tol Hill. That was two days af­ter Rosen­stein named Mueller as a spe­cial coun­sel to in­ves­ti­gate pos­si­ble co-or­di­na­tion be­tween Rus­sia and the Trump cam­paign to in­flu­ence the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Trump has said he plans to nom­i­nate a new FBI di­rec­tor soon, and that had been ex­pected be­fore his de­par­ture. How­ever the White House said there would be no an­nounce­ment Fri­day.

The ap­point­ment of Mueller as spe­cial coun­sel has drawn gen­er­ally favourable com­ments from Democrats and from some Repub­li­cans as well. But law­mak­ers at both con­gres­sional ses­sions ex­pressed frus­tra­tion that Rosen­stein would say lit­tle in an­swer to their ques­tions about his ac­tions — or oth­ers’ — be­fore Comey’s fir­ing.

“There was con­sid­er­able frus­tra­tion in the room,” said Rep. Seth Moul­ton, D-Mass., a mem­ber of the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee. “This re­newed my con­fi­dence that we should not have con­fi­dence in this ad­min­is­tra­tion. I don’t think (Rosen­stein) did a lot to bol­ster our con­fi­dence in him to­day.”

The White House has strug­gled since Comey’s fir­ing to ex­plain the chain of events that led to it and who ex­actly made the de­ci­sion. Trump has in­sisted at times that the de­ci­sion was his alone, but he also has pointed — as re­cently as Thurs­day — to the “very strong ” rec­om­men­da­tion from Rosen­stein.

Rosen­stein made it abun­dantly clear to the law­mak­ers that he drafted his memo only af­ter Trump told him of his plans to dis­miss the FBI di­rec­tor.

“My mem­o­ran­dum is not a state­ment of rea­sons to jus­tify a for­cause ter­mi­na­tion,” he said. But he added, “I wrote it. I be­lieve it. I stand by it.”

The memo fo­cuses on Comey’s han­dling of the Hil­lary Clin­ton e-mail in­ves­ti­ga­tion, par­tic­u­larly the FBI di­rec­tor’s de­ci­sion to di­vulge de­tails to the pub­lic at var­i­ous junc­tures. Rosen­stein de­nounced that as “pro­foundly wrong and un­fair.”

House mem­bers and sen­a­tors said Rosen­stein in his brief­ings steered clear of specifics in an­swer­ing ques­tions about his ap­point­ment of Mueller but made clear the for­mer FBI di­rec­tor, will have wide lat­i­tude to pur­sue the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, po­ten­tially in­clud­ing crim­i­nal charges.

Trump has re­acted fu­ri­ously to the ap­point­ment. How­ever, at a com­bat­ive news con­fer­ence Thurs­day, he fell short in try­ing to re­solve ques­tions about in­ves­ti­ga­tions into his cam­paign and his first four months in of­fice.

Asked point-blank if he’d done any­thing that might merit pros­e­cu­tion or even im­peach­ment, Trump said no — and then added of the lin­ger­ing al­le­ga­tions and ques­tions: “I think it’s to­tally ridicu­lous. Ev­ery­body thinks so.”

The ap­point­ment of the spe­cial coun­sel in­di­cates other be­lieve that’s still open to ques­tion.

On Capi­tol Hill, Rosen­stein said that he and At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions had “dis­cussed the need for new lead­er­ship at the FBI” in one of their first meet­ings, and that he be­lieved Comey had dam­aged the cred­i­bil­ity of the bu­reau and the Jus­tice Depart­ment through the Clin­ton case. Ses­sions has re­cused him­self from the Trump-Rus­sia probe, cit­ing his close in­volve­ment in the Trump cam­paign last year.

Rosen­stein de­nied me­dia re­ports from last week that Comey had asked him for ad­di­tional re­sources for his in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­fore Trump fired him.

ALEX WONG/GETTY IM­AGES

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and first lady Me­la­nia Trump walk on the South Lawn prior to their de­par­ture from the White House May 19, 2017 in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Pres­i­dent Trump is trav­el­ing for his first for­eign trip to visit Saudi Ara­bia, Is­rael, Vatican, and at­tend­ing a NATO sum­mit in Brus­sels, Bel­gium and a G7 sum­mit in Taormina, Italy.

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