WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he did not fire James Comey “because of the phony Russia investigation,” contradicting his 2017 statement that he ousted the FBI director last year over the probe.
Trump fired Comey on May 9, 2017, as the law enforcement agency investigated alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between Moscow and Trump’s campaign. The firing prompted the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller to lead the inquiry and look at possible obstruction of justice.
Trump, who has denied collusion with Moscow, on Wednesday posted a tweet referring to “Slippery James Comey” and said he “was not fired because of the phony Russia investigation.” Trump did not elaborate.
American intelligence agencies have said Russia interfered in the 2016 election through a campaign of propaganda and hacking in a scheme to sow U.S. discord and help get Trump elected. Russia has denied interfering in the election.
Two days after dismissing Comey, Trump had explained why he did it in a televised interview with NBC News.
“In fact 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 said. “It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.”
The Republican president has escalated his attacks on Comey, calling him a liar and a “slimeball,” as the former FBI director embarks on a media tour to promote his book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership.”
Comey’s book chronicles his brief service under Trump, who he described as “morally unfit” to be president, while likening his leadership style to that of a mafia boss.
Comey, a longtime Republican who said he did not vote in 2016, told ABC News on Wednesday that he no longer considered himself a member of the party. He said Republicans have “lost their way” in adopting Trump and becoming “transactional” instead of maintaining conservative values.
Reporting by Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Bill Trott