President Donald Trump told Russian diplomats in an Oval Office meeting last week that his firing of "nut job" FBI Director James Comey had taken "great pressure" off of him, The New York Times reported Friday.
The comments were read to the Times by an American official and were from a White House document summarizing the meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. White House press secretary Sean Spicer did not dispute the comments to the Times.
"I just fired the head of the FBI," Trump said. "He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off."
"I'm not under investigation," he added.
The conversation took place a day after Trump fired Comey, who had been overseeing the FBI's investigation into whether Trump campaign operatives colluded with Russian officials to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. At that same May 10 meeting, Trump revealed to the Russians highly classified intelligence on ISIS that the US had not even shared with close allies. That intelligence was later reported to have come from Israel.
Speaking to NBC News after Comey's firing, Trump mentioned the Russia investigation when explaining why he fired Comey, whom he called a "showboat" and a "grandstander."
"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," he told NBC News' Lester Holt.
Trump also said Comey assured him on three occasions that he was not personally under investigation, including at a January dinner in which Trump reportedly asked Comey to pledge his loyalty to him.
Earlier this week, the Times reported that Comey kept detailed memos of his conversations with Trump, including one from a February meeting in which Trump suggested he "let go" of the investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser who resigned the day after the president's meeting with Comey. Legal experts said after that Times report that the request could constitute obstruction of justice, the charge that led to former President Richard Nixon resigning.
On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to be special counsel overseeing the FBI's Russia investigation. Trump said the move was part of "the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!"
The White House document read to the Times was based on notes taken within the Oval Office during the meeting. It was circulated as an official account of the meeting.
"By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia," Spicer told the Times. "The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it. Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations."
Another government official who spoke to the Times said Trump was using a "negotiating tactic" with Lavrov when he explained the "pressure" he faced.
The Times wrote: "The idea, the official suggested, was to create a sense of obligation with Russian officials and to coax concessions out of Mr. Lavrov — on Syria, Ukraine and other issues — by saying that Russian meddling in last year’s election had created enormous political problems for Mr. Trump."