WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump said he had planned to dismiss FBI Director James Comey even before receiving recommendations from top Justice Department officials.
"I was going to fire Comey. My decision," Trump told NBC News on May 11. "I was going to fire him regardless of recommendation."
The comments apparently contradict the administration's earlier explanation for Comey's firing.
Comey had been overseeing a criminal investigation into suspected Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and potential ties to the Trump campaign. The firing on May 9 stunned lawmakers and roiled Washington politics.
Trump also said that he spoke with Comey once during dinner and twice in phone calls, during which time he says Comey told him "you are not under investigation."
Trump said he initiated one phone call, and Comey initiated the other.
In his termination letter, Trump thanked Comey for informing him "three times" that he is not under investigation.
Initially, the White House said the firing was at the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Democratic lawmakers, and some Republicans, publicly doubted the justification Trump gave for firing Comey -- that the FBI chief had not properly managed the investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her e-mail practices.
Over the next 48 hours, the reasoning for the firing apparently changed.
In his first comments on the matter at the White House on May 10, Trump said Comey was fired because he "was not doing a good job" as FBI leader.
During the NBC interview, the U.S. president added that Comey is "a showboat" and a "grandstander" and that the FBI was in "turmoil," making it necessary to fire the director.
Trump insisted he never pressured Comey to drop the Russia-related FBI investigation.
Democrats have pressed for an investigation to determine whether the Trump team colluded with the Russians in an effort to interfere in the 2016 election.
During his NBC interview, Trump restated his earlier comments that Comey had assured him three times that he was not under investigation.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP