(CNN)President Donald Trump reiterated Thursday that deposed FBI director James Comey told him on three separate occasions that he was not under investigation for his campaign's ties to Russian intelligence officials.
Donald Trump insisted Comey exonerated him. Not exactly...
"He told me that ... and I've heard that from others," Trump told NBC's Lester Holt.
The President added that Comey told him he was not under investigation once during a "very nice dinner" and two other times over the phone. That's consistent with the letter Trump sent Comey informing him that he had been fired; "While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau," Trump wrote.
There have been a whole lot of reasons to be skeptical of Trump's assertion that Comey just kept telling him he was not being investigated.
1. The FBI investigation is focused in part, at the moment, on Trump campaign associates like former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former foreign policy aide Carter Page. "At the moment" is the key thing there. This is an ongoing investigation, meaning that the FBI continues to work on it. That Trump isn't currently under investigation doesn't necessarily, therefore, tell us as much as he wants us to think it tells us.
2. Trump wants to make a very clear delineation between him and his campaign. As in: I am not being investigated ... my campaign is being investigated. Technically true. But the head of Trump's campaign is Trump. You can see the President trying to make that distinction very, very carefully in the interview with Holt.
"All I can tell you is, well I know what, I know that I'm not under investigation. Me. Personally. I'm not talking about campaigns. I'm not talking about anything else."
3. Trump asked Comey whether he was under investigation. The implication from Trump's original letter was that Comey had reached out to him to let him know he wasn't under investigation. Not so. "I actually asked him, yes," Trump told Holt. "I said, If it's possible would you let me know am I under investigation? He said you are not under investigation."
Can you imagine how tough a spot Comey was in? The President of the United States -- your boss and the guy who can fire you -- directly breaks protocol by asking whether he's under investigation. Even as an active investigation goes on into Russia's attempts to influence your campaign and the presidential race more broadly? Not sure that whatever Comey actually said -- and we have yet to hear from him -- is exactly the sort of full-scale absolution that Trump is casting it as.
4. Comey allies have insisted Trump is wrong. This, from a Wall Street Journal piece that ran Thursday, speaks to that point:
Mr. Comey's associates also denied the claim made by Mr. Trump, in his letter firing Mr. Comey, that the director told him on three occasions that he wasn't under investigation. They said Mr. Comey never gave Mr. Trump any such guidance, which would violate longstanding policies on criminal investigations. "That is literally farcical," said one associate.
Obviously we have yet to hear from Comey. But that's a pretty strong denial.
All of the above doesn't mean that Comey didn't tell Trump on three occasions that he was not under investigation. He might have! (We won't know for sure unless and until Comey comes to Capitol Hill to testify under oath about how it all went down.) What it does mean is that Trump's assertion -- first in the letter firing Comey and now in the Holt interview -- should be viewed with an appropriate level of skepticism.
There's less "there" there than the White House wants you to believe.