US President Donald Trump told the Russians that the former FBI Director was a "nut job" as a way of reassuring them that the consternation about Moscow's influence would die down, a senior White House official has said.

H.R. McMaster, the National Security Adviser, said that Trump's May 10 comments to Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, and Sergey Kislyak, the ambassador, were intended as a sweetener.

"The gist of the conversation was that the President feels as if he is hamstrung in his ability to work with Russia to find areas of cooperation because this has been obviously so much in the news," he said.

Trump reportedly said: "I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off."

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The comments increased fears that Trump obstructed justice, firing James Comey in a bid to scotch the Russia investigation.

With Trump out of the country for the first time as president, his team attempted to calm the fires yesterday.

Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, said: "I think the point he was making is, 'I'm not going to be distracted by those things here at home or let them get in the way of important work of engaging Russia to see what can be done to improve this relationship."'

However, John McCain, the Republican senator, said Trump's comments had left him "speechless" and he attacked the President for inviting Lavrov into the White House.

"Mr Lavrov is the stooge of a thug and a murderer, who used Russian precision weapons to strike hospitals in Aleppo and has committed human rights issues all over the place," he said.

Dianne Feinstein, the most senior Democrat on the Senate judiciary committee, added: "Former director Comey is no way, shape or form a 'nut job'.

"The fact is he has been terminated but the reason for the termination has really not been ferreted out."

Comey will testify in June before a senate intelligence committee.

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Marco Rubio, who sits on the committee, said he would ask Comey about the memos which last week were leaked to the press and claimed Trump asked him to abandon his investigation.

Rubio said: "Did he keep these memos? What do those memos say? And why did he write it? Did he ever feel like he was being put in a position where he couldn't do his job?"