World

Trump asked for loyalty, but got 'honesty'

US President issues warning to ex-FBI chief over leaks, after firing him

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump asked his now-fired FBI director on three occasions whether he was the target of ongoing investigations, he said on Thursday, stoking allegations of presidential interference.

Mr Trump also acknowledged that Russia was on his mind when he made the decision to sack Mr James Comey, who had been heading a probe into suspected Russian influence in the 2016 election.

"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,'" he said in an interview with NBC, appearing to link Mr Comey's firing with the investigation.

The New York Times (NYT) reported that Mr Trump had pressed Mr Comey for a pledge of loyalty over dinner a week after his inauguration, according to two associates of the lawman.

Mr Comey, they said, declined to make such a pledge but told Mr Trump he would always give him "honesty".

White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders disputed the account, saying Mr Trump would "never even suggest the expectation of personal loyalty, only loyalty to our country and its great people".

NYT said it was not clear whether the dinner was the one Mr Trump described in the NBC interview in which he acknowledged asking Mr Comey whether he was the subject of a counter-intelligence probe.

'AM I UNDER INVESTIGATION?'

"I actually asked him, yes. I said, 'If it's possible would you let me know, am I under investigation?'

"He said, 'You are not under investigation,'" Mr Trump recounted, repeating an assertion made when the White House announced the firing on Tuesday.

"All I can tell you is... I know that I'm not under investigation. Me personally.

"I'm not talking about campaigns. I'm not talking about anything else. I'm not under investigation."

The other two times Mr Trump said he asked Mr Comey whether he was under investigation were in telephone conversations. His comments to NBC raised questions about whether he had acted inappropriately and whether Mr Comey had broken government guidelines in assuring him he was not under investigation.

US presidents are normally at pains to avoid any suggestion of interference or even commenting on ongoing investigations.

To make matters worse, Mr Trump in a tweet yesterday warned Mr Comey not to leak details of their conversations to the media, and suggested they may have been recorded.

"James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!" Trump wrote.

Mr Trump also said that at the dinner, he and Mr Comey discussed whether the US top cop would stay in his role and continue his 10-year term.

Mr Trump also threatened to end White House press briefings. The comes after his description of his decision to fire Comey contradicted accounts provided earlier by White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, exposing their explanations as misleading and and false. - AFP

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