President Donald Trump disclosed during an interview with NBC News that he had made his decision to dismiss FBI Director James Comey before he received a recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
The president's comments contradicted the reasons for Comey's firing initially provided by White House spokespeople and Vice President Mike Pence.
On May 9, Trump fired Comey through a letter delivered to FBI headquarters. Democratic lawmakers blasted the decision, noting that Comey had been leading an investigation into whether members of the Trump campaign had colluded with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential race.
Trump's letter stated that Comey had assured the president three times that he was not under investigation.
"While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau," Trump wrote to Comey, according to The New York Times.
Initially, the White House stated that Trump had decided to fire Comey following a recommendation from Rosenstein.
However, on May 11, Trump revealed that he had made up his mind before any recommendation from the U.S. Department of Justice.
"I was going to fire [Comey] regardless of recommendation," Trump told NBC News' Lester Holt.
The president proceeded to criticize Comey's demeanor, asserting that the FBI had suffered under his leadership.
"He's a showboat," Trump continued. "He's a grandstander. The FBI has been in turmoil ... You take a look at the FBI a year ago -- it was in virtual turmoil, less than a year ago. It hasn't recovered from that."
Trump stated that he had asked Comey if he was personally under investigation by the FBI on three occasions; twice over the phone and once in person.
"I said, 'If it's possible would you let me know: am I under investigation?'" Trump recalled. "He said, 'You are not under investigation.'"
The president's comments contradicted the White House's official reasoning that Trump dismissed Comey following a recommendation by Rosenstein that the DOJ had lost confidence in the FBI director.
On May 10, White House deputy spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Trump had been considering firing Comey since November, but wanted to give him a chance, only to make his final decision after receiving Rosenstein's recommendation.
"I think also having a letter like the one he received and having that conversation that outlined the basic atrocities, and circumventing the chain of command in the Department of Justice," Sanders said, according to The Hill.
That same day, Pence told reporters that Rosenstein's recommendation had been what prompted Trump to dismiss Comey, ABC News reports.
“[Rosenstein] brought the recommendation to the president,” Pence said. “The attorney general concurred with that recommendation and I, personally, am grateful that we have a president who is willing ... to take the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general and to remove the FBI director who had lost the confidence in the American people.”
Trump's assertion that Comey had given him assurances that he was not under investigation is not accurate, according to anonymous White House sources, but those sources did not elaborate, The Washington Post reports.
Another White House source asserted that Rosenstein was outraged that the White House cited him as the instigator of Comey's dismissal and threatened to resign.
George Lombardi, a personal friend of Trump, asserted that there had been internal discussions within the White House for months regarding whether Comey was loyal to the administration.
"This was a long time coming," Lombardi said. "There had been a lot of arguments back and forth in the White House and during the campaign, a lot of talk about what side of the fence [Comey] was on or if he was above political dirty tricks."