President Donald Trump asserts in a NBC-TV interview he would have fired FBI chief James Comey even if Justice Department officials had not recommended it, calling Comey a show-off.

“He’s a showboat. He’s a grandstander. The FBI has been in turmoil,” Trump said to the network in his first interview since his surprise dismissal on Tuesday of Comey, who was directing an investigation into connections between the president’s election campaign last year and Russian officials, along with possible Russian meddling in the election.

“I was going to fire Comey. My decision,” Trump said. “I was going to fire regardless of [Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s] recommendation.”

The White House on Thursday had continued to defend its handling of the firing of the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, amid investigations into connections between the president’s election campaign last year and Russian officials.

Rosenstein Memo at center of controversy

At the center of the scrutiny is whether the deputy attorney general of the Justice Department, Rod Rosenstein, was instructed to draft a memo justifying the removal of FBI Director James Comey or whether he decided to write the document without direction.

Rosenstein was upset with suggestions made by the White House that his memo suggested he called for Comey’s firing, according to the Washington Post and ABC News.

White House officials on Thursday denied any such reaction by Rosenstein, telling reporters the veteran prosecutor came up with the memo on his own and not necessarily at President Donald Trump’s direction. 

The president is expected to visit FBI headquarters as soon as Friday, according to White House officials.

Trump sent Comey a letter on Tuesday informing him of his immediate removal.

Accompanying memos by Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions mentioned Comey’s mishandling of last year’s investigation into Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state.

The news media, however, have been quoting sources in Washington asserting Comey was suddenly ousted because he wanted to intensify the Russia investigation.

The firing has prompted Democrats to amplify their calls for an independent investigation into the Russia issue.

Rosenstein’s memo is a “political document” that appears “hastily assembled to justify a preordained outcome,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the judiciary committee, in a statement issued Thursday.

Senate Democrats say they are seeking details from the Justice Department on whether Comey, before his firing, requested additional funds and personnel for the FBI’s probe of Russia ties.

Some Republicans are also expressing concern about the timing and reason for Comey’s abrupt removal.

Trump, Comey conversations on investigation

White House officials say Trump had been contemplating firing Comey since last November’s presidential election.

In an interview with NBC News Thursday, Trump said that in a previous conversation, he had asked the FBI director if he was under investigation. Trump said the FBI director replied “no” to him.

Legal analyst Bradley Moss, who specializes in national security issues, called such an exchange “highly inappropriate” at a minimum.

“There is supposed to be a line that is not crossed, including asking the FBI if you yourself are the target of the investigation. Difficult to say if it is actually illegal, since Comey allegedly responded that Trump was not under investigation. If he had said he was, what was Trump going to do? What was the purpose of him asking? What was his motive? Did he ask him to back off on any other targets of the investigation? Did he ask who the targets were?,” said Moss, who heads The James Madison Project, a Washington-based organization that promotes government accountability.  

Former Republican Congressman Mike Rogers is under consideration to succeed Comey, according to senior White House officials.

Rogers, a former FBI special agent, chaired the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

At a Senate intelligence hearing on Thursday, acting FBI director Andrew McCabe pledged to inform lawmakers if there is any official interference into the bureau’s investigation into the Russia ties.

“You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing,” added McCabe.

Meanwhile, the attorneys general of 20 states are calling for an independent special counsel to look into possible Russian interference in last year’s presidential election in which Trump defeated Clinton.

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