President Donald Trump said Saturday that his firing of former FBI director James Comey had been "a great day for America," following a report in the New York Times that the move prompted the agents to begin an investigation into whether Trump was secretly working on behalf of Russia.
In a series of tweets posted Saturday morning, Trump attacked "the corrupt former leaders of the FBI."
The president said that "everybody wanted" Comey fired, and that the agency had been in "complete turmoil" under Comey's leadership.
Comey responded on Twitter with a quote from former president Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The New York Times report, citing unnamed law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation, said that the FBI agents had become "so concerned" by Trump's behavior that they began to probe whether he was working "on behalf of Russia against American interests."
"Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president's own actions constituted a possible threat to national security," the New York Times journalists wrote. "Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence."
Special counsel Robert Mueller assumed control of the FBI probe just days later when he was officially appointed, the newspaper reported.
A month after his firing in May 2017, Comey said in a testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee that Trump had asked him for a pledge of loyalty and repeatedly requested he help "lift the cloud" of the Russia probe by publicly denying the president was being investigated.
According to the Times, FBI agents had been suspicious of Trump's ties to Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, but resisted opening an investigation into him "in part because they were uncertain how to proceed with an inquiry of such sensitivity and magnitude."
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut described this as "another significant piece in the mosaic," and called the Times story a "bombshell."
But in an interview with Fox News on Saturday morning, White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said the news was "absolutely ludicrous and absurd."
"There's a great paragraph in there that says, to this point, there is no evidence of any of this whatsoever. That should have been the headline that there is no evidence of any collusion. There is no evidence of any wrongdoing with Donald Trump," he said.
The paragraph he referred to read: "No evidence has emerged publicly that Mr. Trump was secretly in contact with or took direction from Russian government officials."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CBS that the notion that Trump threatens national security is "absolutely ludicrous."
"The idea that's contained in the New York Times story that President Trump was a threat to American national security is — is silly on its face and not worthy of a response," he said in a Face the Nation interview set to air Sunday.
California Rep. Eric Swalwell, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, was among the Democrats who reacted to the Times story.
Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee also said that the report was "shocking, but not surprising."
The president concluded his tweets Saturday morning by defending his foreign policy decisions related to Russia.
Contrary to his tweet, Trump's attitude to Moscow has concerned critics throughout his presidency.
In June 2018, he caused bewilderment when he said that Russia should be readmitted to the G7, the group of seven nations that represent the world's most advanced economies. Russia had been expelled from the group following its invasion of Crimea in 2014. Two sources told BuzzFeed News that Trump privately told G7 leaders that Crimea is Russian because everyone who lives there speaks Russian.
The following month, at a highly anticipated meeting between Trump and Putin in Helsinki, Finland, the Russian president delivered a forceful image of himself as a man in charge, while Trump said the Russian leader was "extremely strong and powerful" in his denial of electoral interference.
Asked whether he believed US intelligence agents who concluded Russia meddled in the election or Putin's denials, Trump responded, "I don't see any reason why it would be [Russia]."