Trump Claims He Was "Going to Fire Comey Regardless of Recommendations"
NBC broke into regularly scheduled programming early Thursday afternoon to air a special report with part of Lester Holt's sit-down with the president.
NBC broke into regularly scheduled programming Thursday to air a special report featuring part of Lester Holt's interview with President Donald Trump, which was completed earlier that day at the White House.
In the clip, which was quickly posted to NBC News' website, Trump indicated that he had been planning to fire former FBI director James Comey for a while and would have done so regardless of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's recommendation.
"I was going to fire Comey. My decision," said Trump. "There's no good time to do it. … I was going to fire regardless of recommendations. [Rosenstein] made a recommendation. He's highly respected. Very good guy. Very smart guy. The Democrats like him. The Republicans like him. He made a recommendation. But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey."
The president added of Comey, "He's a showboat. He's a grandstander. You know that. I know that. Everybody knows that. You take a look at the FBI a year ago, less than a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil. It hasn't recovered from that."
Trump also expanded upon his declaration in his letter firing Comey, which Holt called a "humiliating" way to terminate him, that the former FBI director had told him on three occasions that he wasn't under investigation.
"I actually asked him if I was under investigation," said Trump, adding that he talked to 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.'"
The dinner, the president said, was because Comey "wanted to stay on."
"We had a very nice dinner at the White House very early on. A dinner was arranged," Trump said. "He wanted to stay on as the FBI head. And I said, 'I'll consider. We'll see what happens.'
"I know I'm not under investigation," Trump told Holt, explaining that he would have to be turning over documents if he was.
NBC News added that "it would be highly unusual" for someone who is the focus of an FBI probe to ask if he were under investigation and be directly told by the FBI director that he was not.
Trump told Holt that he didn't try to pressure Comey into dropping the FBI probe into his campaign and that his move shouldn't be seen as sending a message to Comey's successor to drop that investigation.
"I want to find out if there was a problem with an election having to do with Russia," Trump said. "If Russia did anything, I want to know that. ... I want the investigation speeded up."
Trump went on to say that he was a "big fan of the FBI."
Still, the president insisted there was no "collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians."
"Also, the Russians did not affect the vote," Trump added. "The Russians did not affect the vote, and everybody seems to think that."
When Holt asked the president if he would send a message to the new FBI director to "lay off" the investigation into Russian collusion, Trump responded, "no."
Still, Trump did say that he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he made the decision to fire Comey.
"When I decided to do it, I said to myself, you know this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story," Trump said. "It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won."
The full interview, which was scheduled before Trump fired Comey on Tuesday afternoon, aired Thursday night on NBC Nightly News with clips also airing on Friday's Today.
In the excerpts aired on Today, Trump talked about his administration's approach to North Korea, Afghanistan and health care. He also said he enjoys being president more than he liked campaigning.
"I love governing. I love creating great health care. I love the process," Trump said. "I love, I love the management of it, I love the governing of it, and I think we're doing a great job."
Watch the full, extended interview below.