Trump says he planned to fire Comey all along
WASHINGTON — Contradicting previous White House explanations, President Donald Trump declared Thursday he had planned to fire FBI Director James Comey all along, regardless of whether top Justice Department officials recommended the stunning step. His assertions came as Comey’s temporary replacement joined in, contradicting other administration statements on the snowballing controversy.
In an interview with NBC News, Trump also said he’d asked Comey point-blank if he was under investigation and was assured three times he was not. Trump showed no concern that the request might be viewed as interference in an active FBI probe into his 2016 campaign’s possible ties to Russia’s election meddling.
Comey has not confirmed Trump’s account.
The White House initially cited a Justice Department memo criticizing Comey’s handling of last year’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails as the impetus for Trump’s decision. But Trump on Thursday acknowledged for the first time that the Russia investigation — which he dismissed as a “made-up story” — alsowas on his mind as he ousted the man overseeing the probe.
The shifting accounts of the decision to fire Comey, whom Trump derided as a “showboat” and “grandstander,” added to a mounting sense of uncertainty and chaos in the West Wing, as aides scrambled to get their stories straight and appease an angry president. Not even Vice President Mike Pence was spared the embarrassment of having told a version of events that was later discredited by Trump.
The White House’s explanations continued to crumble throughout the day Thursday. On Capitol Hill, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe strongly disputed the White House’s assertion that Comey had been fired in part because he had lost the confidence of the FBI’s rank-and-file.
“That is not accurate,” McCabe said. “Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day.”
Unfazed, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted she had heard from “countless” members of the FBI who welcomed the president’s decision.
McCabe also pointed out the remarkable nature of Trump’s version of his conversations with Comey. McCabe told a Senate panel it was not “standard practice” to tell an individual whether they are or are not under investigation.
Trump and Comey’s relationship was strained early on, in part because of the president’s explosive and unsubstantiated claims that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. Comey found the allegations confounding, according to his associate, and wondered what to make of what he described as strange thoughts coming from his new boss.
The president was no kinder to Comey Thursday, calling him names and saying he’d left the FBI in “virtual turmoil.” He said that while he received a scathing assessment of Comey’s performance from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Monday, that memo was not a catalyst for his dramatic decision as the White House had said earlier.
“I was going to fire Comey,” Trump said. “Regardless of recommendation I was going to fire Comey.”
That’s far different that the White House’s initial account in the hours after Comey’s firing. Multiple officials, including Pence, said the president was acting at the behest of Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.