Bearing effigies of United States president Donald Trump with the tag ‘Putin’s Puppets’, demonstrators have gathered outside the White House in Washington.
Inside, the President was hosting talks with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, defending his latest firing of a senior official.
Asked directly why he fired Director Comey, Mr Trump answered: “Because he wasn’t doing a good job, very simply. He was not doing a good job.”
His remarks backed up a series of tweets in which he sharply criticised James Comey.
That was despite the FBI director being a man the President not long ago praised effusively for his investigation into rival presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s email controversy.
Now, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders says Donald Trump had been considering sacking Mr Comey from the day he was elected.
“I think it’s been an erosion of confidence. I think that Director Comey has shown over the last several months, and, frankly, the last year, a lot of missteps and mistakes, and, certainly, I think that, as you’ve seen from many of the comments from Democrat members including Senator (Chuck) Schumer, they didn’t think he should be there. They thought he should be gone. Frankly, I think it’s startling that Democrats aren’t celebrating this, since they’ve been calling for it for so long.”
But there are reports James Comey was seeking more funding to expand the FBI’s investigation into links between Russia and the Trump election campaign.
Democrat senator Dianne Feinstein is one of many saying they sense a cover-up.
“At a minimum, the decision to fire Comey raises questions about the appropriateness and timing of firing the person in charge of an investigation that could — I won’t say ‘would,’ but ‘could’ — implicate the administration. To have this happen, and happen now, is beyond surprising.”
Fellow Democrat Patrick Leahy has described the sacking as a scandal.
“The President’s actions are neither Republican nor Democratic. They’re authoritarian. This is an effort to undo the ties that bind our democratic form of government. All of us, both sides of the aisle, must now put country over party.”
But Republican senator Lindsey Graham says “both sides of the aisle” had issues with Mr Comey and replacing him as director provides the chance for a fresh start.
“The burden’s now on the President to pick somebody that, if possible, can unite country. I don’t know if that’s possible now, but he has an obligation to pick somebody who’s qualified, somebody who is respected.”
Meanwhile, the country at the centre of the election-interference allegations is watching on bemused.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, has dismissed the significance of the developments as he arrived for further talks with US secretary of state Rex Tillerson.
(Reporter:) “Has the Comey firing cast a shadow over your talks here?”
(Lavrov:) “Was he fired? You’re kidding. You’re kidding.”
(Reporter:) “What about … what about the Russian investigation?”
In a later media conference, Mr Lavrov told reporters it was humiliating for Americans to hear Russia was controlling the country’s political situation.
“How can a great nation, a great country, speculate in such way? I think that politicians are causing great damage to the US political system on the whole by suggesting that somebody is governing America from the outside.”
He says there is not a single fact or piece of compelling evidence to prove Russia meddled in the presidential poll.