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Comey sought more Russia probe resources

WASHINGTON — In the days before his firing by President Donald Trump, FBI Director James Comey told U.S. lawmakers he had asked the Justice Department for more resources to pursue the bureau’s investigation into Russia’s interference in last year’s presidential election, three U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The officials said Comey met last week with Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, to make the request. Comey then alerted lawmakers with ties to the concurrent congressional investigations into Russia’s meddling, according to the officials, who insisted on anonymity in order to disclose the private conversations.

Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said it was false that Comey had asked Rosenstein for money for the Russia investigation.

The revelations raise new questions about what prompted Trump’s decision to fire Comey. The White House has cited a memo from Rosenstein, in which he criticizes Comey’s handling of last year’s investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s email practices.

Rosenstein’s memo makes no mention of the FBI’s Russia investigation, which is probing both Russia’s hacking of Democratic groups last year and whether Trump campaign associates had ties to Moscow’s election interference.

Trump defended his decision Wednesday, asserting in a flurry of tweets that both Democrats and Republicans “will be thanking me” for his action. He did not mention any effect the dismissal might have on the FBI and congressional investigations into contacts between his 2016 election campaign and Russia.

“He wasn’t doing a good job. Very simply. He was not doing a good job,” Trump said in brief remarks to reporters in the Oval Office, where he was joined by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

The White House said Trump had been considering firing Comey since the election.

“I think it has been an erosion of confidence,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. She said Rosenstein’s memo, as well as Comey’s own testimony last week on his handling of the Clinton investigation, pushed Trump toward a final decision.

The abrupt firing of Comey threw into question the future of the FBI’s investigation and immediately raised suspicions of an underhanded effort to stymie a probe that has shadowed the administration from the outset. Trump has ridiculed the investigations as “a hoax” and denied any campaign involvement with the Russians.

Sanders said the White House would “encourage” the FBI to complete the Russia investigation. She said the president continued to oppose appointing a special prosecutor to oversee the investigation.

Democrats compared Comey’s ouster to President Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” during the Watergate investigation and renewed calls for the appointment of a special prosecutor.

Ironically, Kissinger, who was meeting with Trump, was Nixon’s secretary of state in 1973, just moved over from being Nixon’s national security adviser.

Earlier Wednesday, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York urged Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rosenstein, to appear before the Senate to answer questions about the circumstances surrounding Trump’s action.

However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brushed aside calls for a special prosecutor, saying a new investigation into Russian meddling would only “impede the current work being done.” He noted that Democrats had repeatedly criticized Comey in the past and some had called for his removal.

Trump made a similar case on Twitter, saying Comey had “lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington,” adding: “When things calm down, they will be thanking me!”

Vice President Mike Pence said at the Capitol that Trump had made “the right decision at the right time.”

The Justice Department said Sessions was interviewing candidates to serve as an interim replacement. Comey’s deputy, FBI veteran Andrew McCabe, became acting director after Comey was fired.

In his brief letter Tuesday to Comey, Trump said the firing was necessary to restore “public trust and confidence” in the FBI. The administration paired the letter with a scathing review by Rosenstein, the recently confirmed deputy attorney general, of how Comey handled the investigation into Clinton’s email practices, including his decision to hold a news conference announcing its findings and releasing “derogatory information” about Clinton.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” Rep. Adam Schiff of California, top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said Wednesday on MSNBC. As to Trump’s contention that the firing had to do with Comey’s decision-making on such matters as the Clinton emails, he said, “Nobody believes that.”

Trump, in his letter, pointedly thanked Comey for telling him three times “that I am not under investigation.” The FBI has not confirmed that Comey ever made those assurances to the president. In public hearings, Comey has declined to answer when asked if Trump is under investigation, urging lawmakers not to read anything into that statement.