President Trump called former FBI chief James Comey a "nut job" during an Oval Office meeting with two Russian officials, telling them his firing relieved “great pressure,” The New York Times reported Friday.
"I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job," Trump said, according to a report based on a summary of the meeting obtained by the Times.
The White House did not deny the conversation took place, but said Comey's "grandstanding" on an investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 elections, including possible ties to Trump's campaign, had hurt relations with Moscow.
“By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia,” Spicer said.
“The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it."
Spicer also said the real story were the negative leaks.
"Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations,” he said.
The leak to the Times was particularly damaging since only a select group of people could have had access to the information about the May 10 Oval Office meeting with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The meeting took place one day after Trump's surprise firing of Comey, which prompted bipartisan outcry and ultimately led to the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel for the Russian probe.
The Times story came as the Washington Post separately reported that the investigation into Russia had led to a person of significant interest who works in the White House right now.
Two unnamed White House officials confirmed the account to the Times, while a third government official said that the comments were a negotiating tactic used by Trump.
The report is the latest in a steady stream of bad headlines for the White House related to the fallout of Comey's firing.
They White House initially said Comey was only fired after Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote recommendations.
But Trump himself told NBC News last week that he would have fired Comey regardless of the recommendations, saying he did it because "this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story."
Days later, the Times reported that Trump had asked Comey in February to end his investigation into disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and that the Trump transition team knew that Flynn was under investigation by the Justice Department when it chose to name him to that post.
Rosenstein appointed former FBI chief Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russian election interference and links between Trump’s team and the Kremlin.
In addition, the FBI and the Senate and House Intelligence committees are also conducting Russia probes.
— Updated at 3:55 p.m.