White House adviser is person of interest in Russia probe: Report

US President Donald Trump speaks during a joint news conference with Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos (not pictured) at the White House in Washington, US on May 18, 2017.
US President Donald Trump speaks during a joint news conference with Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos (not pictured) at the White House in Washington, US on May 18, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior White House adviser is a significant person of interest in the law enforcement investigation of possible ties between Donald Trump's election campaign and Russia, the Washington Post said on Friday (May 19), citing people familiar with the matter.

The Post said its sources would not further identify the official, who was described as a person close to President Trump.

The report was published as Trump travelled to Saudi Arabia on the first leg of a trip abroad that the White House hopes will shift attention away from the political firestorm triggered by his firing last week of former FBI Director James Comey.

Comey was leading the probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US election and possible ties to Trump's campaign.

His firing and news reports that Trump had previously asked Comey to stop investigating former national security adviser Michael Flynn led critics to charge that Trump may have improperly sought to hamper the FBI probe.

"As the president has stated before - a thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said in a statement in response to the Post's report.

After days of turmoil in Washington, the Justice Department announced the appointment on Thursday (May 18) of a special counsel to look into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign.

Separately, the New York Times reported on Friday that Trump told Russian officials at a White House meeting last week that firing Comey relieved "great pressure" that the president was facing from the ongoing probe into Russia and the election.

"I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job," Trump said, according to the Times, which cited a document summarising the meeting and read to it by a US official.

"I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off."

Trump met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russia's ambassador to Washington in the Oval Office the day after he fired Comey.

The Times said the document was based on notes taken from inside the Oval Office. Reuters was not immediately able to verify the accuracy of the Times' account.

The Times report added to the impression given by Trump himself in a television interview last week in which he said that the Russia issue was a factor in firing Comey, although the White House has given different versions of the reasons for the dismissal.

Asked about the Times report, Spicer said of the former FBI chief, "by grandstanding and politicising the investigation into Russia's actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia."

"The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it," Spicer said, adding that the real story was the leaks of"private and highly classified conversations".