US President Donald Trump has admitted the FBI inquiry into possible links between Russia and his presidential campaign was on his mind when he decided to fire FBI director James Comey.
- Donald Trump says he was going to fire James Comey regardless of recommendation
- Acting FBI director Andrew McCabe testifies before Senate committee
- Mr McCabe says Mr Comey enjoyed broad support at the FBI
Mr Trump said he was going to fire Mr Comey "regardless" of what the Justice Department recommended, contradicting his earlier rationale.
"I was going to fire Comey. My decision. I was going to fire regardless of recommendation," Mr Trump said.
"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."
In his letter firing Mr Comey earlier this week, Mr Trump wrote: "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."
But in his first interview since the firing, Mr Trump told NBC News Mr Comey was a "showboat" and a "grandstander" who presided over an FBI "in turmoil".
However, in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Acting FBI director Andrew McCabe contradicted Mr Trump's assessment of the FBI under Mr Comey.
"I can tell you also that director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day," Mr McCabe said.
"I can tell you that I hold director Comey in the absolute highest regard. I have the highest respect for his considerable abilities and his integrity.
Mr McCabe testified in place of Mr Comey, who Mr Trump abruptly dismissed as FBI director on Tuesday in an action that has roiled Washington.
He promised to tell the panel of any White House meddling into the agency's probe of possible Russian interference in the 2016 election.
But Mr McCabe declined to say whether he ever heard Mr Comey tell Mr Trump that the President was not a target of the investigation.
He said he could not comment on an ongoing investigation.
McCabe sees no 'crisis of confidence'
Video: Acting FBI director Andrew McCabe testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee. (Phot: AP/Jacquelyn Martin) (ABC News)
"It is my opinion and belief that the FBI will continue to pursue this investigation vigorously and completely," Mr McCabe said, adding that he saw no "crisis of confidence within the leadership of the FBI".
Democrats have accused the Republican President of trying to foil the FBI's probe into Moscow's actions, and many have called for a special prosecutor to look into the Russia matter.
US intelligence agencies concluded in a January report that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an effort to disrupt the election that included hacking into Democratic Party emails and leaking them, with the aim of helping Mr Trump.
Leaders of the US intelligence agencies, including director of national intelligence Dan Coats and CIA chief Mike Pompeo, on Thursday testified that they agreed with that finding.
Moscow has denied any such interference and the Trump administration denies allegations of collusion with Russia.
Thursday's hearing was scheduled to address global security threats, but there were frequent questions about Mr Comey and the FBI's Russia probe.
Several congressional panels are also investigating Russia's role in the election.