President Donald Trump, in an exclusive interview Thursday with NBC News' Lester Holt, called ousted FBI chief James Comey a "showboat" and revealed he asked Comey whether he was under investigation for alleged ties to Russia.
"I actually asked him" if I were under investigation, Trump said, noting that he spoke with Comey once over dinner and twice by phone.
"I said, if it's possible would you let me know, am I under investigation? He said, 'You are not under investigation.'"
"I know I'm not under investigation," Trump told Holt during the 31-minute White House interview.
The president also said he supports a full investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election last year, saying he wants the probe to be done "absolutely properly."
It would be highly unusual for someone who might be the focus of an FBI probe to ask whether he was under investigation and to be directly told by the FBI director that he was not. Several legal experts told NBC News the president's action was improper.
The president reiterated his claim that he had been planning to fire Comey even before he received Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's recommendation to do so.
"He's a showboat, he's grandstander, the FBI has been in turmoil," Trump said of Comey in his wide-ranging interview with Holt. "You know that, I know that. Everybody knows that. You take a look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil, less than a year ago. It hasn't recovered from that."
Holt asked Trump if he was "angry with Mr. Comey because of his Russia investigation."
"I just want somebody that's competent," Trump responded. "I am a big fan of the FBI, I love the FBI."
Trump said he never tried to pressure Comey into dropping the FBI probe of the Trump campaign and insisted, "I want to find out if there was a problem in the election having to do with Russia."
"As far as I'm concerned, I want that thing to be absolutely done properly," Trump said. "Maybe I'll expand that, you know, lengthen the time (of the Russia probe) because it should be over with, in my opinion, should have been over with a long time ago. 'Cause all it is, is an excuse but I said to myself, I might even lengthen out the investigation, but I have to do the right thing for the American people."
Trump added of the investigation, "I want that to be so strong and so good. And I want it to happen."
Asked by Holt if by firing Comey he was trying to send a "lay off" message to his successor, Trump said, "I'm not."
"If Russia did anything, I want to know that," he said.
But Trump also insisted there was no "collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians."
"Also, the Russians did not affect the vote," he said.
Holt asked Trump about the war in Afghanistan, which some administration officials want to expand, but Trump immediately changed the subject to the fight against ISIS, which he said was going well.
"I will say this, most importantly, we are making incredible strides against ISIS and next week (Defense Secretary) General Mattis and my generals are going to be having a major news conference to inform the public and the world how well we've done against ISIS. We have done really well."
Holt's interview with the president came as Washington was still reeling over Trump's removal of Comey on Tuesday. And Trump's revelation that he would have fired Comey even without Rosenstein's input was not what his top officials had told reporters earlier this week.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders explained Thursday that she had spoken with the president on Tuesday night and didn't ask him directly if he'd already made the decision to terminate Comey before seeing the Rosenstein memo, which she had earlier told reporters was the reason Trump ousted the FBI chief.
But Trump, in his talk with Holt, also contradicted Vice President Mike Pence's account of how his boss came to his decision to fire Comey on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rosenstein.
When asked if Pence too had been kept in the dark, Sanders retorted "nobody was in the dark" and accused the media of creating a "false narrative."
On Wednesday, Trump claimed he canned Comey because "he was not doing a good job" and the White House on cited the FBI chief's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation as the reason they were firing the veteran G-man.
Democrats, many of whom believe that Comey's intrusion into the election helped Trump win the presidency, immediately denounced the move and called for the appointment of a special prosecutor as New York Senator Charles Schumer suggested a "cover-up" was underway.
"The timing of Director Comey's dismissal to me and many committee members on both sides of the aisle is especially troubling," Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, said Thursday at the opening of a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.
"He was leading an active counterintelligence investigation into any links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government or its representatives, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts to interfere in our election," he said.
Asked whether he agreed that Comey was a "showboat," Senator Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) called him "one of the most ethical, upright, straightforward individuals I've had the opportunity to work with."
"Sure there were FBI employees that disagreed with how he handled the Clinton email announcements," Burr said. "The lion's share of FBI employees respect the former director and it shows the professionalism that he brought to the role that he was in."
Holt also asked Trump about any business he might do in Russia and the president said he had no ties to Russia. Trump said he had a law firm send a letter to Senator Lindsay Graham stating that the president did not have any financial connection to Russia.
"I have no investments in Russia, none whatsoever," Trump told NBC News. "I don't have property in Russia. A lot of people thought I owned office buildings in Moscow. I don't have property in Russia, and I am...in total compliance in every way."
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