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President Trump contradicts himself by claiming he didn't fire James Comey over the Russia probe

Key Points
  • "Not that it matters but I never fired James Comey because of Russia," the president wrote in a morning post on Twitter.
  • The post contradicts some of the president's previous assertions.
  • Trump told NBC News' Lester Holt two days after he fired Comey that he was thinking about "this Russia thing" when he decided to terminate the FBI director.
President Donald Trump
Al Drago | Reuters

President Donald Trump said Thursday that he didn't fire former FBI Director James Comey because of Russia — contradicting his own previous statements.

"I never fired James Comey because of Russia," the president said in a tweet.

Trump has offered a variety of reasons for firing the FBI director, which he did by letter on May 9, 2017. Two days after dismissing the embattled law enforcement officer, Trump told NBC's Lester Holt that the FBI's Russia investigation was on his mind during the firing.

"And, 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, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should've won,'" Trump said at the time.

Earlier in May 2018, the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said Trump fired Comey because he would not say that Trump was not a target of the FBI's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

"He fired Comey because Comey would not — among other things — say that he wasn't a target of the investigation," Giuliani said in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity.

In the letter firing Comey, Trump wrote that Comey told him on three occasions that he was not under investigation. Comey confirmed telling Trump he was not under investigation in congressional testimony.

The president's comments come a day after new reports that zero in on the time Comey was fired. Former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who was dismissed earlier this year, reportedly had written a memo saying that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told him that he was asked to include a reference to the Russia investigation in his own critical memo on Comey.

The final version, which Trump cited when he fired Comey, didn't mention Russia and focused instead on the former FBI director's handling of the Clinton email case.

Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is investigating whether the president obstructed justice by firing Comey, a position on which legal experts are divided. Trump has repeatedly denied that he committed obstruction.

Rosenstein appointed Mueller to the post days after Trump fired Comey.

Since his firing, Comey has published a book about his dealings with Trump, and has been an outspoken critic of the president.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNBC.

Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., took to Twitter to troll the president over his remarks.

"Let's go to the videotape," the senator wrote, including a clip of Trump's interview with Holt.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, told CNN on Thursday morning that he didn't know what Trump had in mind when he fired Comey.

"The fact that he might have had a lot of things on his mind, including the fact that he believed that the Russia thing was made up, still doesn't negate the fact that he had adequate reason to fire him, and that he had adequate authority to fire him."