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Trump: I was going to fire Comey without recommendation

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Thursday he would have fired FBI Director James Comey even without the recommendation from his top political appointees at the Justice Department, contradicting earlier White House accounts.

He insisted anew that Comey had told him directly three separate times that he personally was not under investigation.

“I was going to fire Comey,” Trump said in an interview with NBC. The White House and Vice President Mike Pence have said the president acted on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

“Regardless of recommendation I was going to fire Comey,” Trump said.

Trump’s comments came amid increased criticism of the White House’s evolving explanation of the firing.

In public testimony Thursday, the acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, contradicted White House statements about why Comey was dismissed, particularly the assertion that Comey had lost the confidence of the rank and file of the FBI.

“That is not accurate,” McCabe said in response to a senator’s question. “I can tell you also that Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day.”

In the NBC interview, Trump repeated his assertion that Comey three times assured him he was not under investigation.

“He said it once at dinner, and then he said it twice during phone calls,” Trump said.

McCabe told senators it is not standard FBI practice to tell someone he or she is or isn’t under investigation. He would not comment on conversations between Trump and the FBI director.

The White House refused Wednesday to provide any evidence or greater detail. Former FBI agents said such a statement by the director would be all but unthinkable.

The dramatic firing of Comey has left the fate of the FBI’s probe into Russia’s election meddling and possible ties to the Trump campaign deeply uncertain. The investigation has shadowed Trump from the outset of his presidency, though he’s denied any ties to Russia or knowledge of any campaign coordination with Moscow.

McCabe called the Russia investigation “highly significant” — another contradiction of the White House portrayal — and assured senators Comey’s firing will not hinder it.