Comey firing prompted FBI to probe whether Trump was working for Russia: NYT

Shortly after President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Democrats sharpen their message on impeachment MORE fired former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyBroadcast, cable news networks to preempt regular programming for Trump impeachment coverage Scores of US dams found in poor condition, endangering thousands of people: analysis Former National Security Adviser John Bolton gets book deal: report MORE in 2017, the FBI launched an inquiry into whether Trump was working for Russia, The New York Times reports.

According to the Times, Comey's firing caused such concern among law enforcement that officials began probing if Trump was a threat to national security or secretly carrying out anti-American agendas on behalf of Russian officials.

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The White House and FBI did not immediately return requests for comment from The Hill on Friday night.

In a statement reported by NBC News's Geoff Bennett, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders blasted the Times report as "absurd."

"James Comey was fired because he's a disgraced partisan hack," she said, according to NBC.

"Unlike President Obama, who let Russia and other foreign adversaries push America around, President Trump has actually been tough on Russia."

In a tweet early Saturday morning, Trump claimed that he learned about the probe from the Times, adding that he had been investigated "for no reason & with no proof." 

"Wow, just learned in the Failing New York Times that the corrupt former leaders of the FBI, almost all fired or forced to leave the agency for some very bad reasons, opened up an investigation on me, for no reason & with no proof, after I fired Lyin’ James Comey, a total sleaze!" Trump tweeted.

Comey’s firing in 2017 is a focal point of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSpeier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' Comey: Mueller 'didn't succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency' MORE’s investigation into whether Trump attempted to obstruct the probe into ties between the Trump campaign and Russian 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.

The firing of Comey was reportedly used as justification for the investigation being opened, but FBI agents had already been concerned about the president’s ties to Russia, the Times reported.

The Russia investigation was taken over by Mueller when he was appointed as special counsel.

“The fact that it goes back a year and a half and nothing came of it that showed a breach of national security means they found nothing,” Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani told the Times for its report.

— Chris Mills Rodrigo contributed to this report, which was last updated Jan. 12 at 7:20 a.m.