James Comey, during President Donald Trump's first days in office, was asked whether he would pledge loyalty to Trump, The New York Times reported on Thursday night.
Trump posed the question over a private dinner with Comey in January, The Times' Michael Schmidt reported, at a time when the FBI, led by Comey, was well in the midst of an investigation into whether the Trump campaign had colluded with Russian officials to meddle in the 2016 US election.
CNN's Jake Tapper confirmed The Times' reporting on Friday, with a source close to Comey saying the FBI director was "taken aback" by Trump's question.
Comey declined Trump's request for loyalty at least twice during the dinner, The Times said, citing two people close to Comey who The Times said had knowledge of the conversation.
Schmidt wrote: "Instead, Mr. Comey has recounted to others, he told Mr. Trump that he would always be honest with him, but that he was not 'reliable' in the conventional political sense."
CNN also reports that Trump asked if Comey to pledge "honest loyalty." Comey reportedly agreed to this.
"The source said the term 'honest loyalty' doesn't necessarily mean anything," according to Tapper.
Trump unsuccessfully asked for Comey's loyalty again during the dinner, and Comey again declined, The Times said. The Times noted that Trump as a private citizen had long demanded loyalty from close associates.
The White House denied the accounts, and Trump in an NBC News interview that aired Thursday described a dinner in which Comey was the one who wanted to meet. An FBI official cited by NBC News on Thursday called Trump's account "not correct."
"The White House called him out of the blue," the official said. "Comey didn't want to do it. He didn't even want the rank and file at the FBI to know about it."
Trump fired Comey as FBI director on Tuesday. The Trump administration offered conflicting reasons for the dismissal, and on Thursday, Trump contradicted the White House's original announcement that Trump decided to fire Comey this week on recommendations from his attorney general and deputy attorney general.
Speaking with NBC News, Trump said he had planned to fire the FBI director all along and suggested the Russia investigation was getting under his skin.
(Mark Wilson/ Getty Images)
Trump has often bristled at investigations about Russia being carried out by the FBI as well as committees in the House and the Senate — often saying the notion that Russia meddled in US affairs to tip the presidential election in his favor was a Democratic Party excuse for its November defeat.
The president has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing — at points chastising lawmakers and the US intelligence community's work on the matter.
Multiple people close to Trump have been entangled in the Russia investigation, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday.
Carter Page, once a Trump foreign-policy adviser, is also among the persons of interest, as is former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.
At his Senate confirmation hearings, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a staunch Trump supporter, failed to disclose campaign-trail meetings he had with a Russian ambassador. Sessions has since recused himself from Trump campaign-related investigative matters — though reports in the news media suggested he had a role in Comey's removal.
Peter Jacobs contributed to this report.
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