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And he apparently would have done just that, had Trump not kicked him out of his office.

For many in Washington, Mr. Trump's abrupt move to fire Mr. Comey carried echoes of the "Saturday Night Massacre", an infamous turning point in the Watergate scandal. "You know that, I know that".

Mr Trump, in his first interview after the firing, described the dinner meeting differently.

The White House appeared caught off guard by the intense response to Mr Comey's firing, given that the FBI director had become a pariah among Democrats for his role in the Clinton investigation.

Trump echoed that argument in an NBC interview Thursday - while also insisting he always meant to fire Comey, undercutting the White House explanation that he acted on Rosenstein's advice.

Several candidates are being considered to replace Comey, a senior White House official said, including Mike Rogers, a former Republican representative; Trey Gowdy, a Republican representative and former federal prosecutor; Alice Fisher, assistant attorney general in the George W. Bush administration; and Ray Kelly, former commissioner of the New York Police Department.

The nominee must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

In the hours after Comey's dismissal, the official explanation given by the White House shifted rapidly.

The firing of Comey is reverberating through the halls of the bureau, raising concerns about interference in the FBI's ongoing investigations. Colbert asked. "We should get him something special". But what he actually said was broader: "I have chose to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States".

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At his Senate confirmation hearing March 7, Rosenstein refused to say whether he would be willing to bring in a special counsel, saying he wouldn't make judgments in advance.

According to Politico, the president - increasingly exasperated by the attention given to allegations of Russian election meddling - had been looking to fire Comey for more than a week.

In building a case to defend Trump's firing of Comey on Tuesday, the White House has leaned heavily on Democratic politicians and other liberals who called for his head in the past.

"I don't want people to over-interpret this answer", said Comey. Today we will no doubt hear calls for a new investigation which could only serve to impede the current work being done to not only discover what the Russians may have done, but also to let this body and the national security community to develop the countermeasures and warfighting doctrine to see that it doesn't occur again.

More than a year later in a general election debate, Clinton challenged Trump with a similar litany of sexist slams. As the new acting director was testifying on Thursday, the chairman and ranking members of the committee suddenly left, citing meeting they "can't push off".

Mr Comey addressed friends and staff in a widely-reported letter on Wednesday, in which he stated his belief that Mr Trump, as president, had a right to fire him irrespective of the circumstances. "You would never ever say anything about such an investigation to anybody". "We consider it to be a highly significant investigation", he said instead. For one thing, waiting an extra day or two would have avoided the ridonkulous optics of firing Comey, raising the spectre of Nixon and generating a Russia storm, only to then welcome Russian Ambassador Sergei Lavrov and former Nixon secretary of state Henry Kissinger to the White House the very next day. I told myself, I might even lengthen out the investigation.

Clinton has blamed Comey's late-in-the-game announcement, amongst other issues, for her surprise defeat last November. When asked about that comment, McCabe wouldn't agree.

Trump also told Holt that he asked Comey whether he was under investigation.