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Trump claims he did not fire Comey over Russia

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times IMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East MORE claimed Thursday he did not fire former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyComey donates maximum amount to Democratic challenger in Virginia House race FBI investigated media leak of McCabe comment about Flynn and Trump House Judiciary chairman threatens to subpoena Rosenstein MORE over the Russia investigation, despite his prior statements that the issue contributed to Comey’s firing.

"Not that it matters but I never fired James Comey because of Russia! The Corrupt Mainstream Media loves to keep pushing that narrative, but they know it is not true!" he tweeted.

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Trump appeared to be referring to a New York Times report that Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinFBI investigated media leak of McCabe comment about Flynn and Trump House Judiciary chairman threatens to subpoena Rosenstein Sessions unveils task force to combat transnational criminal groups like MS-13 MORE said the president initially asked him to reference Russia in his memo justifying Comey’s firing, which centered on the FBI chief’s handling of the probe into former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBudowsky: Closing message for Democrats Election Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach GOP mocks Clinton after minor vehicle collision outside Mendendez campaign event MORE's use of a private email server.

The conversation was detailed in a separate memo authored by former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeFBI investigated media leak of McCabe comment about Flynn and Trump Clinton's security clearance withdrawn at her request Rod Rosenstein must recuse himself MORE, which was given to special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE.

Comey’s firing is a focal point of Mueller’s probe into whether Trump obstructed the investigation into ties between his campaign and Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump and his allies have offered a series of changing explanations for his decision to fire Comey, which has complicated investigators’ effort to determine his intent.

Soon after the White House released Rosenstein’s memo, which criticized Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation, Trump undercut it by telling NBC News that he was going to ax the FBI director “regardless of recommendation.”

“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 have won,’” the president said during a May 2017 interview with the network.

Trump later told a pair of top Russian diplomats that firing Comey had relieved “great pressure” on him over Russia, according to the Times.

The president has grown increasingly frustrated by the Mueller investigation as it moves closer to his inner circle.

Over the past 24 hours, Trump has repeatedly lashed out at Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsDepartment of Justice right to go after Hezbollah Sessions defends media following disappearance of Saudi journalist Trump goes on 12-tweet Twitter tirade MORE over his decision to recuse himself from the probe.

And the president has also continued to push his unsubstantiated claim that the Obama administration placed spies in his campaign in order to help Clinton in 2016.

“The corrupt Mainstream Media is working overtime not to mention the infiltration of people, Spies (Informants), into my campaign! Surveillance much?” he tweeted 10 minutes before his message about Comey.

Trump’s claims were rebutted this week by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyHouse GOP sets deposition deadline for Fusion GPS co-founder Collusion bombshell: DNC lawyers met with FBI on Russia allegations before surveillance warrant Comey rejects request for closed-door interview with House Republicans MORE (R-S.C.), who met with senior Justice Department and intelligence officials following reports the FBI used a confidential informant in the Russia probe.

“I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got and that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump,” Gowdy said Tuesday on Fox News.

The Russia probe has appeared to dominate Trump's attention, distracting from high-stakes negotiations with North Korea and on trade. The president vowed this week he would dedicate more of his time to those key policy issues instead of the investigation.

"Sorry, I’ve got to start focusing my energy on North Korea Nuclear, bad Trade Deals, VA Choice, the Economy, rebuilding the Military, and so much more, and not on the Rigged Russia Witch Hunt that should be investigating Clinton/Russia/FBI/Justice/Obama/Comey/Lynch etc.," he tweeted Tuesday.

--Updated at 8:49 a.m.