CLARIFICATION

Tillerson and McMaster Defend Trump’s Comey Chat With Russian Officials

President Trump discussed former FBI director James Comey’s firing with Russian officials in the interests of advancing cooperation between the two countries, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in separate interviews broadcast Sunday. “The gist of the conversation was that the president feels as if he is hamstrung in his ability to work with Russia to find areas of cooperation because this has been obviously so much in the news,” McMaster said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” on Sunday. Tillerson echoed the national security adviser’s explanation in a separate interview, saying on “Fox News Sunday” that Trump wanted to make it clear to Russia he’s “not going to be distracted by all these issues at home that affect us domestically.” Both Tillerson and McMaster were present at the May 10 meeting where Trump discussed Comey’s firing with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. Trump had reportedly referred to Comey as a “nut job” and said his dismissal relieved “great pressure” in the administration stemming from the FBI’s Russia probe, according to the New York Times. The conversation with the Russian officials—and the wider issues surrounding Comey’s firing—have triggered a backlash from lawmakers in both parties. Republican U.S. Senator John McCain said he was left “speechless” by Trump’s comments during the meeting, saying he couldn’t understand “why someone would say something like that.”