U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday denied that Federal Bureau of Investigation director Christopher Wray threatened to resign under pressure from the White House and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to fire his top aide.
"No, he didn't at all. Not even a little bit. Nope," the president said when asked about it during an Oval Office event in the White House. "And he's going to do a good job."
The Axios news website says it stands by its report that Sessions, at Trump's urging, pressured Wray to fire his top deputy, Andrew McCabe, and other members of the inner circle of former FBI director James Comey.
This comes amid allegations that senior officials of the top domestic intelligence, national security and law enforcement agency had shown political bias in their professional work.
Trump fired Comey last year when he was heading the agency's investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to help Trump win.
"We have 100 percent confidence in Director Wray," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters following the president's comment, echoing a remark she gave earlier in the day to VOA.
Asked by reporters about whether Trump maintains there are others in the FBI echelon who have a bias against the president and should be removed, Sanders replied that "he feels that if any changes need to be made the director will make that decision and carry them out."
Axios, noting that firing Wray would have created a media firestorm, reported that the White House relented after the FBI director pushed back against the pressure to oust McCabe.
Trump has on several occasions fired off Twitter comments expressing displeasure with McCabe, noting that the FBI official's wife received $700,000 in campaign contributions from what he described as "Clinton puppets" when the official's wife ran for a state legislative seat in Virginia as a Democrat, and noting with approval that McCabe is eligible to retire with full benefits in March.
Sanders declined further comment Tuesday on McCabe, except to note that he is expected to leave the FBI soon.
"He's already in the process of retirement, and I don't have further comment on that other than to say the president wants Director Wray to make the decisions that he sees fit and sees necessary to run his agency," she said.
Trump on Tuesday kept up his Twitter pressure on the nation's premier law enforcement agency, noting that FBI officials have admitted that they cannot locate thousands of text messages between two senior officials accused of displaying anti-Trump bias in their work on investigations involving the president.
The latest Trump tweet comes days after Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, sent a letter to Wray asking to explain why it failed to preserve the text messages between Peter Strzok, the top FBI counterterrorism official, and agency attorney Lisa Page.
Strzok, who was also the lead investigator on the FBI team looking into Hillary Clinton's email server prior to the 2016 election, was removed from the Trump Russia probe months ago after it was discovered that he and Page, who were linked romantically, had disparaged Trump in text messages during the presidential campaign. The missing texts cover a five-month period from shortly after the election through May 2017.
Page had left Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigative team before the text messages were discovered.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal last month, Trump called Strzok's behavior "treasonous."
As Republicans in Congress stepped up efforts to learn more about allegations of political bias at the FBI, Attorney General Sessions on Monday vowed to get to the bottom of the missing text issue.
"We will leave no stone unturned to confirm with certainty why these text messages are not now available to be produced and will use every technology available to determine whether the missing messages are recoverable from another source," Sessions said. "If we are successful, we will update the congressional committees immediately."