President Donald Trump reportedly told two Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting that removing "nut job" James Comey from his post as FBI director alleviated "great pressure" for him.
"I just fired the head of the FBI," Trump said on May 10, the day after he terminated Comey, according to a document read to the New York Times by an American official. "He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off."
Trump then reportedly went on to tell the Russians, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, that he was "not under investigation."
The news comes at a time when Trump is facing allegations that he fired Comey to obstruct the FBI investigation into whether or not Trump colluded with Russia to influence the U.S. presidential election.
Trump and his team have released conflicting accounts of the termination.
"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," the president told NBC News shortly after the termination. Originally, the White House stated that Trump made the decision based on a recommendation from the Department of Justice, not because of the Russia probe, notes The Times.
"I was going to fire Comey -- my decision," Trump told NBC, according to CNN. "There is no good time to do it, by the way. I was going to fire regardless of recommendation."
One week later, he had a different account.
"Director Comey was very unpopular with most people," Trump said during a press conference with Colombian President Juan Manual Santos. "I actually thought when I made that decision -- and I also got a very, very strong recommendation, as you know, from the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein."
Though Trump has caught criticism over his meeting with the Russian officials -- during which he reportedly disclosed confidential information regarding potential terrorist threats -- one U.S. official stated that the president made the comments about the Russian investigation as a negotiating tactic intended to soften them and make them feel obligated to concede on a number of other issues they discussed, notes The Times.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer did not contradict Trump's comments about the investigation.
"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, according to The Times. "The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it. Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations."