US President Donald Trump, striking a defiant tone on Thursday after days of political tumult, denied asking former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey to drop a probe into his former national security adviser and decried a "witch hunt" against him.
In addition to the Times report, a Washington Post report published around the same time this afternoon revealed that the ongoing Russian Federation probe has labeled a senior White House official as a "significant person of interest".
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said, "as the president has stated before, a thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity".
" By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia's actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia", Mr. Spicer said. (Trump wrote in Comey's termination letter that Comey had told him on three separate occasions that he was not being investigated, assurances that sources close to Comey denied he ever made.) But, as the Times reported, the meeting wasn't only a matter of curious timing.
A third government official briefed on the meeting defended the president, saying Mr. Trump was using a negotiating tactic when he told Mr. Lavrov about the "pressure" he was under.
Though James Comey, the FBI director that Trump fired last week, confirmed the existence of an investigation into Trump's campaign in March, the Justice Department declined to comment.
The Times based its article on a document that summarized the meeting between Trump, Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak. "I stand by it", he said, according to the opening statement provided by senior Justice Department officials.
It's hard to think of statements better calculated to build the case that Trump fired Comey to disrupt the FBI investigation into his administration's ties with Russian Federation.
"It is a candid internal memorandum about the FBI director's public statements concerning a high-profile criminal investigation", he said.
The FBI's investigation has bedeviled the Trump administration, and the president personally. The news marks the latest in a series of reasons the Trump administration has given for firing Comey.
Also on Friday: The Washingon Post reported that a senior White House adviser, close to the president had been identified as a "significant person of interest" in the probe.
Despite the president's furious reaction, some fellow Republicans welcomed Mr Mueller's appointment and expressed hopes it would restore some composure to a capital plunged in chaos.
In their announcement Friday, Burr and Warner announced that Comey would testify in open session, and that they would schedule that session sometime after Congress's Memorial Day break. "I don't think (Rosenstein) did a lot to bolster our confidence in him today".
He offered new justifications for his decision Thursday, even while referring to the Rosenstein memo as "a very, very strong recommendation". Trump was telling Mr. Lavrov of the "pressure" he was now under.
Mr Trump met with the Russians on May 10, the day after he fired Mr Comey.