There are many versions of when and how President Donald Trump decided that FBI Director James Comey had to go. And that’s just from the White House briefing room podium.
“The president, over the last several months, lost confidence in Director Comey,” said spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders at one point on Wednesday.
“The president lost confidence in Comey from the day he was elected,” she said minutes later, and has “been considering letting Director Comey go” since that long ago. But he “wanted to give Director Comey a chance.”
On April 12, Trump said in a Fox Business interview, “I have confidence in him.” Last week, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, “The president has confidence in the director.”
A reporter asked Sanders: “Was Sean lying?”
“Certainly not,” Sanders said.
And what about Trump praising Comey for going public with the reopening of the Hillary Clinton email investigation late in the campaign, but now embracing as grounds for dismissal that Comey’s pronouncements overstepped his authority?
“He was a candidate for president, not the president. Those are two very different things,” Sanders said. See Emily Ngo and Tom Brune’s story for Newsday.
What really happened?
Trump’s dismissal of Comey was the culmination of his growing rage over the investigation into Russian election meddling and whether there was complicity from his team, according to Politico. He would scream at TV reports about the probe.
Days before he was sacked, Comey went to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to seek more resources for the probe. It was unclear whether Trump got wind of that request.
Sanders said it was Rosenstein who went to Trump, recommending Comey’s ouster for his conduct in the Clinton case.
Trump tweeted a refutation of reports by CNN and Politico that outside adviser Roger Stone — a reported target in the Russia investigations — personally lobbied him to dump Comey. “Have not spoken to Roger in a long time,” Trump said.
But Stone has said on multiple occasions over the past month that he remains in contact with Trump, The Washington Post said. Stone denied pushing for Comey’s firing, but praised it.
The take-away: Take a breath
Newsday’s Dan Janison cautions against jumping to conclusions over Trump’s firing of Comey.
It doesn’t in itself mean the FBI investigation will die, or that it was headed to criminal charges of collusion between the Trump camp and Russian operatives. There are also alternate explanations — not necessarily more high-minded — for why Trump pulled the trigger.
Surprised by reaction
Only those closest to Trump knew in advance of the bombshell he dropped late Tuesday afternoon. The president didn’t expect the ferocity of the backlash, and the White House was caught flat-footed by it.
Trump ordered his staff to go out and defend him, and Sanders and Kellyanne Conway were sent to the North Lawn to do live interviews. Spicer, for some reason, didn’t want to appear on TV and hid in the bushes for several minutes, eventually agreeing to speak to reporters off camera.
White House officials claimed they thought Democrats would be glad to see Comey go because of his treatment of Clinton. “I think it’s startling that Democrats aren’t celebrating this,” Sanders said Wednesday.
Trump tweeted that both parties should be happy: “When things calm down, they will be thanking me!” In a brief public comment, he said Comey “wasn’t doing a good job.”
Trump aides are saying the president's relations with the FBI director reached a breaking point when Comey refused to preview for the White House the testimony that he planned to deliver before the Senate last week, Reuters reports.
Isn’t that special? Nope
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) rejected calls for an independent prosecutor or commission to take over the Russia probe.
Democrats threatened to stall confirmation for a Comey successor if no special prosecutor is named.
Burr’s committee invited Comey to testify in a closed session next Tuesday, but it was not yet known whether he would agree to appear. The panel also subpoenaed former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn on Wednesday, demanding any Russia-related documents.
Trump kept an appointment for a White House meeting with visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, but the official statement about the meeting didn’t mention another Oval Office visitor — Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
The envoy’s pre-inauguration meetings with National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions figure in the former’s ouster and the latter’s recusal from the Russia investigation.
Wednesday’s meeting was closed to the media. Kislyak’s presence was revealed in an official Russian photo posted by Russia’s Tass news agency.
What else is happening
- Among the names floating around Washington as possible Comey successors, according to The Associated Press and Politico, is former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly.
- Republicans in Congress want to prevent the Comey uproar from stalling their agenda, Politico reports.
- Comey’s firing has shaken the morale of many rank-and-file FBI agents, CNN and The New York Times reported. Sanders said, “We’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things.”
- Trump’s approval rating dipped to 36% in the latest Quinnipiac poll, and his disapproval rating is 58%. On the question of honesty, 33% said he is and 61% said he isn’t.
- Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price commended police in West Virginia for “doing what they thought was appropriate” in arresting a journalist who shouted questions at him. Asked if he thought the arrest was justified, Price said, “That’s not my decision to make.”
- Boos drowned out parts of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ commencement speech at Bethune-Cookman University in Florida, a historically black school.
- Officials drafting Trump’s 2018 budget are planning to propose an $800 billion cut over 10 years in entitlement programs, including Social Security Disability Insurance, Roll Call says.