By Amanda Becker and Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he had not obstructed the FBI’s probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and had not recorded his conversations with former FBI chief James Comey.
Comey was leading the investigation into allegations Russia tried to sway the election toward Trump and the possibility Trump associates colluded with Moscow when the president fired him on May 9, sparking a political firestorm.
“Look there has been no obstruction, there has been no collusion,” Trump told Fox News Channel in an interview set to air on Friday. Fox released a partial transcript of the interview on Thursday.
The former head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation testified before a Senate committee that Trump had asked him to drop a probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s alleged ties to Russia.
Earlier on Thursday, Trump said he did not make and does not possess any tapes of his conversations with Comey, after suggesting last month he might have recordings that could undercut Comey’s description of events.
“I have no idea whether there are ‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Lawmakers investigating allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. election had asked the White House for any such recordings.
Shortly after dismissing Comey, Trump mentioned the possibility of tapes in a Twitter post.
“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump tweeted on May 12.
Allegations of ties to Russia have cast a shadow over Trump’s first five months in office, distracting from attempts by his fellow Republicans in Congress to overhaul the U.S. healthcare and tax systems.
Trump has privately told aides that the threat of the existence of tapes forced Comey to tell the truth in his recent testimony, a source familiar with the situation said.
Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said Trump still had questions to answer about possible tapes.
“If the president had no tapes, why did he suggest otherwise? Did he seek to mislead the public? Was he trying to intimidate or silence James Comey? And if so, did he take other steps to discourage potential witnesses from speaking out?” Schiff said in a statement.
CNN reported on Thursday that two top U.S. intelligence officials told investigators Trump suggested they publicly deny any collusion between his campaign and Russia, but that they did not feel he had ordered them to do so.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Admiral Mike Rogers met separately last week with investigators for special counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to CNN.
The two officials said they were surprised at Trump’s suggestion and found their interactions with him odd and uncomfortable, but they did not act on the president’s requests, CNN reported, citing sources familiar with their accounts.
Reuters was unable to verify the CNN report.
In his interview with Fox, Trump expressed concern about what he described as the close relationship between Comey and Mueller, who was appointed to take over the investigation after Comey was fired.
“Well he’s very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome,” Trump said, according to the Fox transcript.
The Kremlin has denied U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Moscow tried to tilt the election in Trump’s favor, using such means as hacking into the emails of senior Democrats.
Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion.
(Additional reporting by Tim Ahmann, Steve Holland, Patricia Zengerle and Susan Heavey; Writing by Alistair Bell and Tim Ahmann; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Peter Cooney and Paul Tait)