WATCH LIVE: Daily White House Press Briefing
WASHINGTON – President Trump said Thursday he planned to fire FBI Director James Comey even before meeting with top-ranking Justice Department officials and soliciting their recommendations on his performance.
"I was going to fire regardless of recommendation," Trump said in an interview with NBC's Lester Holt.
The White House has maintained that Comey was fired based on the recommendations of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
In a letter released by the White House, the Justice Department's leadership excoriated Comey's handling of the probe into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, in particular, his unusual decision to hold a press conference in July announcing he would not charge the Democratic candidate – only to later publicly reopen the probe just 11 days before the November election.
Trump and his aides are scrambling to get past the furor over his dismissal of the FBI director who headed up an investigation into possible collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russians seeking to influence the 2016 election. Democrats have already decried the timing of Comey's firing as a way to short-circuit the ongoing counterintelligence probe.
Yet Trump told NBC that "there's no good time" to fire an FBI director.
He went on to attack Comey personally, using terms not usually lobbed at senior law enforcement officials. Trump described Comey as a "show boat" and a "grandstander" who led the FBI into "turmoil."
In defending Comey's firing earlier this week, the White House said that Comey had lost the confidence of the bureau due to his handling of the investigation into Clinton's emails. But acting FBI director Andrew McCabe on Thursday denied this was true, saying that Comey maintained broad support within the ranks of the FBI before his dismissal.
"I have worked very closely with Director Comey, and I can tell you that I hold Director Comey in the absolute highest regard,'' the acting director said. Agents' support for the former director continues "to this day," McCabe added.
Contributing: Kevin Johnson