Hey, they’re not under oath
Sure, Donald Trump has been sour on James Comey for a while, but he didn’t decide to yell “fire” until he got the damning letters about the FBI director from the top two officials at the Justice Department. Or so we were told.
“President Trump made the right decision at the right time to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general,” Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday, and spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said likewise at her briefing that day.
“Sarah, isn’t it true that the president had already decided to fire James Comey and he asked the Justice Department to put together the rationale?” she was asked.
“No,” she responded.
That was the story, but they’re not sticking to it. It seems Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein complained about it to the White House, wanting the record set straight, according to The Wall Street Journal (pay site).
Trump had a new version for an NBC News interview Thursday: “I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.”
So what about that, Sanders was asked after the clip aired. She said she “went off that information that I had” at the time.
“I don’t think that, you know, the back-and-forth makes that much difference,” she said. See Newsday’s story by Emily Ngo.
More Twitter twaddle
On Friday, Trump tweeted out this excuse for the Comey messaging fiasco: "As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!...."
Then he followed up with what may or may not have been a threat to his chimerical enemy, the "fake media": " ..Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future "press briefings" and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???"
Never mind that his tweets are "written" and, often as not, inaccurate. Minutes later, the vexed president added this clearer threat: "James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!" Why Trump used quotation marks for "tapes" is anyone's guess.
The White House contended rank-and-file agents had lost faith in Comey. Testifying at a Capitol Hill hearing, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe disputed that. Comey enjoyed “broad support within the FBI and still does, to this day,” he said.
Sanders maintained, “I’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the president’s decision.” How many is countless?
“We’re not going to get into a numbers game,” she said.
The White House has dropped the idea of a Trump visit to boost morale at FBI headquarters after being told he wouldn’t get a warm welcome, NBC News reported.
It wasn’t about Russia, but ...
As the interview with NBC’s Lester Holt went on, Trump drifted further afield from the contention that Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation was a central reason.
“When I decided to [fire Comey], I said to myself, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election.” (Clip here.)
Trump also said he wanted the investigation completed and “done properly.” He realizes that because of the firing, it might take longer.
Sanders said the Russia probe was “probably one of the smallest things” on the FBI’s plate. McCabe said otherwise.
“We consider it to be a highly significant investigation,” he testified.
The take-away: No way Ray
The chances that Trump would choose former New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly as his next FBI director are very slim, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.
Kelly is a strong advocate of gun control, which is contrary to Trump’s agenda. He also butted heads with the FBI, accusing the bureau of being too slow to inform the NYPD that the Boston Marathon bombers had talked of attacking Times Square.
Partisan split on Comey firing
A majority of Americans -- 54 percent -- think Trump was wrong to fire Comey, and that it was not appropriate, according to an NBC News|SurveyMonkey poll. The results split along partisan lines, with Republicans strongly backing Trump and Democrats opposing him.
Overall, 46 percent of Americans think Trump’s decision to fire Comey was related to the Russia investigation, the poll found.
Week of the leak
The Comey firing not only hasn't stopped but has intensified the leaks coming out of the White House, suggesting a collective lack of discipline. Behind-the-scenes stories undermined Trump's erratic messages as well as his relations with law-enforcement agencies, The Hill points out.
Trump signed an executive order launching a commission to review alleged voter fraud and voter suppression, building upon his unsubstantiated claims that millions of people illegally cast ballots in the 2016 election and deprived him of a popular-vote victory.
Vice President Mike Pence will chair the panel and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach will be vice chair. Democrats and voting rights groups charged the commission is seeking pretexts to further voter suppression through stricter registration requirements that would impede poor and minority voters.
What else is happening
- Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer invited Rosenstein to brief all 100 senators next week on the Comey firing. Separately, Schumer wrote Rosenstein that his role in the controversy has “imperiled” his reputation for “integrity and impartiality.”
- A judge ordered the Trump team to turn over a memo drafted under the guidance of ex-mayor Rudy Giuliani that "allegedly served as an outline to make the president’s travel ban look like it wasn’t aimed at Muslims," as Bloomberg describes it.
- On Dec. 20, the day after Trump formally won the Electoral College, Rosie O’Donnell tweeted, “FIRE COMEY.” Trump responded Thursday: “We finally agree on something Rosie.”
- In his next tweet, Trump said, “Russia must be laughing up their sleeves watching as the U.S. tears itself apart over a Democrat EXCUSE for losing the election.”
- Moscow may also be muffling its mirth after getting a Tass photographer into the Oval Office for Trump’s meeting Wednesday with Russian diplomats and posting the photos online. “They tricked us,” an angry White House official told CNN. “That’s the problem with the Russians -- they lie.”
- In an interview with The Economist, Trump used the phrase “priming the pump” while discussing his tax-cut plan and added he’d never heard the expression until he “came up with it a couple of days ago.” It’s been used in economics since the 1930s.
- Jared Kushner’s sister is pulling out of another event in China seeking investors for a Kushner Cos. real estate project in New Jersey. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to Trump administration officials expressing concern over how the sales pitch included the prospect of U.S. immigration visas.