Donald Trump dramatically broke his silence on his firing of James Comey on Thursday – to call the FBI director he fired ‘a showboat’.

He told NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt he had directly asked Comey three times if he was himself under investigation. 

And he said that he would have fired Comey regardless of the written memo from deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein which called for him to go.

That announcement dropped a bomb on his own officials who had spent almost 48 hours since Comey was dismissed pinning the decision on Rosenstein.

Even Mike Pence, the vice president, was caught up in at after he spoke at the Capitol and said the new deputy attorney general ‘came to work, sat down’ – and said Comey should be fired.

An unrepentant Trump however savaged Comey as he left his own staff reeling.  

‘He’s a showboat, he’s a grandstander, the FBI has been in turmoil,’ Trump told the interviewer.

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Trump told NBC News anchor Lester Holt he had directly asked Comey three times if he was himself under investigation

Trump told NBC News anchor Lester Holt he had directly asked Comey three times if he was himself under investigation

Trump told NBC News anchor Lester Holt he had directly asked Comey three times if he was himself under investigation

Full account: Lester Holt's interview with the president is his first interview since he fired James Comey.

Full account: Lester Holt's interview with the president is his first interview since he fired James Comey.

Full account: Lester Holt’s interview with the president is his first interview since he fired James Comey.

My decision: Trump said of the firing of the FBI director: 'Oh, I was going to fire Comey regardless of recommendation.'

My decision: Trump said of the firing of the FBI director: 'Oh, I was going to fire Comey regardless of recommendation.'

My decision: Trump said of the firing of the FBI director: ‘Oh, I was going to fire Comey regardless of recommendation.’

‘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.’

The president also described the timeline of the firing – and indicated his mind was made up even before he met with Rosenstein.

Previous statements by Vice President Mike Pence and others give Rosenstein a prominent role in the decision.

WHAT TRUMP SAID ON:

James Comey:

He’s a showboat, he’s a grandstander, the FBI has been in turmoil.

Who decided to fire Comey:

I was going to fire Comey. My decision. I was going to fire Comey.

What he asked Comey:

If it’s possible would you let me know – am I under investigation?

What Comey asked him:

He wanted to stay on as the FBI head. 

What now for Russian probe:

If Russia did anything, I want to know that.

‘I was going to fire Comey. My decision. I was going to fire Comey,’ the president said.

‘Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation. He made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.’

Pence said on Wednesday that Rosenstein ‘came to work, sat down and made the recommendation for the FBI to be able to do its job that it would need new leadership’. 

‘The deputy attorney general was confirmed just a few short weeks ago by the United States Senate when he brought the recommendation to the president that the director of the FBI should be removed,’ Pence said in a version of events his own boss now appears to be contradicting.

Trump said he had asked Comey – once over dinner and twice by phone – if the FBI was investigating him as part of its probe into alleged collusion between members of his campaign and the Russian government in the run-up to the election.

 Trump indicated that his chat he met with Comey at the former FBI director’s request – and said Comey was angling to keep his job. The FBI director has a 10-year term. 

Comey was appointed three years ago by President Barack Obama, although the president has the authority to fire the director.

‘I had a dinner with him. He wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on. We had a very nice dinner at the White House,’ Trump said.

‘He asked for the dinner?’ Holt followed up.

‘A dinner was arranged, I think he asked for the dinner,’ the president hedged. ‘And he wanted to stay on as the FBI head. 

‘And I said I’ll consider and we’ll see what happens. But we had a very nice dinner. And at that time he told me ‘you are not under investigation’,’ Trump said.

Question time: Lester Holt interviewed Trump in the West Wing and the president used the sit-down to open a fresh assault on Comey and reveal he was going to be fired regardless

Question time: Lester Holt interviewed Trump in the West Wing and the president used the sit-down to open a fresh assault on Comey and reveal he was going to be fired regardless

Question time: Lester Holt interviewed Trump in the West Wing and the president used the sit-down to open a fresh assault on Comey and reveal he was going to be fired regardless

‘I actually asked him,’ he added, in a dramatic intervention which only throw fuel on the political firestorm engulfing the White House.

‘I said, ‘If it’s possible would you let me know – am I under investigation?’

‘He said, ‘You are not under investigation’.’

Trump added: ‘I know I’m not under investigation.’

Trump elaborated on how he knew, saying: ‘First of all, when you’re under investigation you’re giving all sorts of documents and everything. 

‘I knew I wasn’t under and I heard it was stated at the committee, at some committee level, that I wasn’t.’

He also mentioned two phone calls where he says Comey gave him reassurances. ‘Then during a phone call he said it. And then during another phone call he said it. So he said it once at dinner and then he said it twice during phone calls.’

'I said, 'If it's possible would you let me know - am I under investigation?'

'I said, 'If it's possible would you let me know - am I under investigation?'

‘I said, ‘If it’s possible would you let me know – am I under investigation?’

WHAT, ME WORRY? President Trump says he asked Comey on three occasions whether he was under investigation

WHAT, ME WORRY? President Trump says he asked Comey on three occasions whether he was under investigation

WHAT, ME WORRY? President Trump says he asked Comey on three occasions whether he was under investigation

As for at whose instigation, Trump said: ‘In one case I called him and one case he called me.’ 

At the end of the exchange, Trump indicated that he was still allowing for the possibility – as stated by Comey and others – that his campaign was being investigated over alleged Russia contacts.

‘I know that I’m not under investigation. Me. Personally,’ Trump said.

‘I’m not talking about campaigns. I’m not talking about anything else. I’m not under investigation,’ Trump added.

Trump’s accounting of his decision to fire Comey came on a day of continued blowback for the decision, which caught Washington and much of his own staff by surprise. At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, the new acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe provided assurances that the bureau’s Russia investigation would continue unimpeded – and pledged to inform Congress of any efforts to obstruct it. He was testifying in Comey’s place.

McCabe said he would ‘absolutely’ inform the Senate if Trumpworld tries to lean on him

‘The work of the women and women of the FBI continues despite any change of circumstance, any decisions’ said McCabe. ‘Simply put sir: You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing – protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution.’ After a report in the Washington Post that he threatened to resign after being cast as the force behind Comey’s firing, Rosenstein traveled to Capitol Hill to meet privately with the Republican and Democratic heads of the Intelligence panel.

The panel’s top Democrat, Senator Mark Warner, commenting on what he called a ‘shocking development.’ 

‘He was leading an active counterintelligence investigation into any links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government or its representatives,’ Warner told a packed hearing. ‘For many people, including myself, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the president’s decision to remove Director Comey was related to this investigation. And that is unacceptable.’

The president also reversed his previous criticism of the very existence of the investigation into Russian links – which he had called a tax-payer funded waste of money.

‘I want to find out if there was a problem in the election having to do with Russia, he said.

The president also described the timeline of the firing – and indicated his mind was made up even before he met with deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein on Monday

The president also described the timeline of the firing – and indicated his mind was made up even before he met with deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein on Monday

The president also described the timeline of the firing – and indicated his mind was made up even before he met with deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein on Monday

NBC's Lester Holt repeatedly pressed Trump on the timeline he laid out for Comey's firing, which was contradicted by other administration claims

NBC's Lester Holt repeatedly pressed Trump on the timeline he laid out for Comey's firing, which was contradicted by other administration claims

NBC’s Lester Holt repeatedly pressed Trump on the timeline he laid out for Comey’s firing, which was contradicted by other administration claims

And directly asked by Holt if he was trying tell whoever leads the FBI in the future to ‘lay off’ the Russian probe he said: ‘I’m not.

‘If Russia did anything, I want to know that.’

Despite that he renewed his denial of any links to Vladimir Putin’s regime and any ‘collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians’.

‘Also, the Russians did not affect the vote,’ he told Holt. 

Acting attorney general Andrew McCabe wouldn’t confirm or deny having heard Comey tell the president that he was under investigation.

‘I can’t comment on any conversations the director may have had with the president,’ McCabe said at a Senate Intelligence Committee oversight hearing Thursday.

Asked at the White House press briefing what constituted showboating, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would not name any specifics. 

‘I think probably based on the numerous appearances that he made and I think that it’s probably pretty evident in his behavior over the last year or so with the back and forth,’ she said. 

‘Those words don’t leave a lot of room for interpretation,’ she said of the president’s words.

Asked whether it was inappropriate for Trump to be asking whether he was under investigation while he claimed Comey was angling to keep his job, Sanders denied a conflict of interest.  

‘No I don’t believe it is,’ she said. 

‘I don’t see that as a conflict of interest and neither do the many legal scholars and others that have been commenting on it for the last hour,’ Sanders said.

SEAN SPICER’S STAND IN SQUIRMING SARAH IS LEFT REELING AS PRESIDENT RUBBISHES HER VERSION OF EVENTS – AND EVEN PENCE IS CAUGHT OUT BY HIS BOSS 

President Donald Trump directly contradicted three of his aides and the vice president as he finally gave his account of the events that led to James Comey’s firing.

Trump said in his NBC interview that he he was going to fire Comey ‘regardless’ of what his deputy attorney general recommended – an explanation that put him back in the position of power but undermined the accounts of his senior staff.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was forced to admit at a live, televised briefing later in the afternoon that she was mistaken in what she had said.

She denied that she, or anyone else, including Vice President Mike Pence, were ‘in the dark,’ however.

Sqirming Sarah: President Donald Trump directly contradicted three of his aides and the vice president today as he finally gave his account of the events that led to James Comey's firing. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was forced to admit at a live briefing later that she was mistaken in her interpretation of the timeline

Sqirming Sarah: President Donald Trump directly contradicted three of his aides and the vice president today as he finally gave his account of the events that led to James Comey's firing. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was forced to admit at a live briefing later that she was mistaken in her interpretation of the timeline

Sqirming Sarah: President Donald Trump directly contradicted three of his aides and the vice president today as he finally gave his account of the events that led to James Comey’s firing. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was forced to admit at a live briefing later that she was mistaken in her interpretation of the timeline

Pence Trumped: Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer and Huckabee Sanders had all said in early accounts of the astonishing dismissal that Trump had acted solely on the advice of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. Vice President Mike Pence (pictured) gave reporters a similar explanation on Wednesday.

Pence Trumped: Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer and Huckabee Sanders had all said in early accounts of the astonishing dismissal that Trump had acted solely on the advice of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. Vice President Mike Pence (pictured) gave reporters a similar explanation on Wednesday.

Pence Trumped: Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer and Huckabee Sanders had all said in early accounts of the astonishing dismissal that Trump had acted solely on the advice of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. Vice President Mike Pence (pictured) gave reporters a similar explanation on Wednesday.

Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer and Huckabee Sanders had all said in early accounts of the astonishing dismissal that Trump had acted solely on the advice of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general.

Rosenstein determined within in two weeks of his confirmation that Comey had made ‘serious mistakes’ in his handling of Hillary Clinton’s email probe and should be replaced.

The Department of Justice official expressed his concerns in a memo to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who then passed on the recommendation that Comey be fired to the president.

‘The president took the advice of the deputy attorney general who oversees the director of the FBI, brought those concerns to the attorney general who brought them to the president, and they made a decision to remove him,’ Conway told CNN’s New Day on Wednesday.

Spicer told reporters asking about Rosenstein’s memo on Tuesday evening, ‘It was all him.’

Vice President Mike Pence gave reporters a similar explanation on Wednesday.

‘The deputy attorney general was confirmed just a few short weeks ago by the United States Senate when he brought the recommendation to the president that the director of the FBI should be removed,’ Pence said.

Huckabee Sanders admitted Monday that Trump actually spoke to Rosenstein and Sessions at the White House before the DOJ officials wrote the letters the White House says Trump based the firing on.

WHOOPS, THERE GOES MY CREDIBILITY 

‘I think it’s pretty simple. I hadn’t had a chance to have the conversation directly with the president to say – I had several conversations with him, but I didn’t ask that question directly – “Had you already made that decision?”‘

Squirming Sarah Huckabee Sanders tries to explain why officials said Rosenstein decided to fire Comey

Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer and Huckabee Sanders had all said in early accounts of the astonishing dismissal that Trump had acted solely on the advice of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. Vice President Mike Pence (pictured) gave reporters a similar explanation on Wednesday.

‘It was all him’: That’s what Sean Spicer said of Rosenstein and his recommendation to fire Comey on Tuesday evening. That was the last time Spicer was seen

He solicited their opinions orally, and asked them to put it in writing, she said.

‘Frankly, he’d been considering letting Director Comey go since the day he was elected. But he did have a conversation with the Deputy Attorney General on Monday, where they had come to him to express their concerns,’ Huckabee Sanders stated.

She also said Wednesday that it was her ‘understanding’ that Trump made his decision on Tuesday, once he received Rosenstein’s written recommendation.

That’s not what Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt on Thursday, though.

‘Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation,’ he said. ‘Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.’

At the White House press briefing later, Huckabee Sanders was asked about her earlier statements, and she admitted that she was wrong.

‘I know you love to report that that we were misled,’ she told a reporter asking if senior staff and the VP were left ‘in the dark.’

Huckabee Sanders said the characterization was ‘not true.’

‘I think it’s pretty simple. I hadn’t had a chance to have the conversation directly with the president to say – I had several conversations with him, but I didn’t ask that question directly – “Had you already made that decision?”‘ she said.

'It was all him': That's what Sean Spicer said of Rosenstein and his recommendation to fire Comey on Tuesday evening. That was the last time Spicer was seen

'It was all him': That's what Sean Spicer said of Rosenstein and his recommendation to fire Comey on Tuesday evening. That was the last time Spicer was seen

‘It was all him’: That’s what Sean Spicer said of Rosenstein and his recommendation to fire Comey on Tuesday evening. That was the last time Spicer was seen

The White House spokeswoman said she was going off the information that she had.

‘I’ve since had the conversation with him, right before I walked on today. And he laid it out very clearly. He had already made that decision.

‘He had been thinking about it for months, which I did say yesterday, and have said many times since,’ she claimed.

Comey’s testimony last Wednesday, in which he made inaccurate statements about Huma Abedin’s email habits, was the ‘final straw that pushed him,’ she said, and Rosenstein’s recommendation ‘further solidified his decision.’

Huckabee Sanders chaffed at a follow-up question about the VP, and whether he was mislead, again, having been embarrassed previously by Mike Flynn’s lies about his conversations with a Russian diplomat in February.

‘Nobody was in the dark,’ she claimed. ‘You want to create this whole narrative.’

Kellyanne Conway did not immediately respond to a request for clarification on her part of the narrative.

She said Thursday morning that she was away from the White House on travel when Comey was fired, though, explaining, perhaps, why she did not have the most up-to-date information on the events when she spoke to CNN twice.

Spicer hasn’t been seen since Tuesday evening – when he literally was in the dark, briefing reporters outside the White House after hours.

A spokesman for Pence did not immediately respond to a request for clarification, either. 

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