Trump, without evidence, says NBC fudged 2017 Russia interview

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday, without offering any evidence, accused NBC News of “fudging” a May 2017 interview in which he tied his decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey to the federal probe into Russia‘s alleged election interference.

Representatives for NBC News, part of Comcast Corp , had no immediate comment. Representatives for the White House did not respond to a question about Trump‘s accusation, which comes more than a year after his televised comments aired.

As head of the federal law enforcement agency, Comey at the time was charged with overseeing the Russia investigation. Trump fired him on May 9 in a move Comey said sought to undercut the probe.

Trump had said he fired Comey because he wasn’t doing a good job. In the NBC interview, he raised the issue of the federal investigation of Russian election interference and said he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he fired him.

Moscow has denied findings by U.S. intelligence agencies that it acted to bolster Trump and harm his Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, in examining Russia‘s actions, is also looking into whether there was any collusion with Trump‘s campaign as well as any potential obstruction of justice. Mueller was named special counsel on May 17.

Legal experts have said Mueller‘s team must weigh whether the president acted with an improper, or “corrupt,” intent when he took actions such as firing Comey, a key part to an obstruction of justice case.

Trump has denied any collusion with Russia and has said that he did not fire Comey over the federal probe.

In his NBC interview last year discussing the firing, Trump first called Comey a “showboat” and a “grandstander.” He then said he knew firing Comey could “confuse people” and “lengthen out the investigation.”

“In fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,” he told NBC at the time.

In a Twitter post on Thursday, Trump accused the news outlet and its journalist, NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, of “fudging my tape on Russia” but gave no evidence to back up his claim.

Trump‘s explanation to NBC over the firing ran counter to previous explanations by his administration, which had said the president was following the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and No. 2 Justice Department official Rod Rosenstein.

Trump, in a string of tweets last week, said he had nothing to hide from Mueller‘s probe.

He has also continued to blast media coverage of him as unfair. In a separate tweet on Thursday, he called on AT&T to fire the news chief at CNN.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Ken Li in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Steve Orlofsky and Susan Thomas)