US President Donald Trump was hit on Friday by embarrassing leaks that a senior adviser was a “person of interest” in a probe of possible collusion with Russia during last year’s election campaign and that Trump had boasted to Russian officials of firing the man heading the investigation.
The reports, emerging just as Trump jetted off to Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip as president, were likely to extend the turmoil engulfing his administration since the 9 May firing of former FBI Director James Comey.
The Washington Post, citing sources familiar with the matter, did not identify the senior Trump adviser except to say that the person of interest was close to Trump, a Republican who entered the White House four months ago.
US law enforcement uses the term “a person of interest” to mean someone who is part of a criminal investigation but not arrested or formally accused of a crime. The person may be cooperating or have information of use to investigators.
Separately the New York Times reported that Trump boasted to Russian officials at a White House meeting last week that firing Comey relieved “great pressure” the president faced from a law-enforcement probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump said, according to the Times, which cited a document summarizing the meeting and read to it by an unnamed US official.
“I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Trump met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russia’s ambassador to Washington in the Oval Office the day after Trump fired Comey, who was in charge of the Russia election probe.
The Times said the document was based on notes taken from inside the Oval Office. Reuters was not immediately able to verify the accuracy of that account.
Comey, who has not spoken publicly in the 10 days since he was fired, will testify in an open session of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating possible Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Committee leaders said on Friday he would appear sometime after the US Memorial Day holiday on 29 May.