President Trump on Thursday contradicted some of his top aides by revealing he was going to fire FBI Director James Comey no matter what senior Justice Department officials recommended.
“I was going to fire Comey,” Trump told NBC News in an interview. “Regardless of the recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.”
The president was referring to a memo prepared by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — and signed off on by Attorney General Jeff Sessions -- that called for axing Comey because he, during the 2016 campaign, went around the department’s chain of command. That memo was delivered to Trump Tuesday; he fired Comey later that afternoon.
On Tuesday night, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Trump based his decision on Rosenstein’s recommendation. The next day, Spicer’s deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, told reporters the president had been considering letting Comey go since he was elected early on Nov. 9.
On Wednesday, Huckabee Sanders acknowledged Trump met with Rosenstein and Sessions on Monday, suggesting the duo brought their concerns about the FBI chief to him.
During that meeting, Trump asked the AG and deputy AG to put their concerns about Comey in writing, which led to the memo he got Tuesday that she said, echoing Spicer and other top White House officials, prompted his decision to ax Comey.
She contended that Comey “took a stick of dynamite” and threw it into the Justice Department by “going around” the chain of command in announcing his initial decision about Hillary Clinton’s email usage as secretary of State.
But the president’s comments signal that he allowed his top two spokespersons and other senior staff members - as well as Vice President Mike Pence - to repeat falsehoods about his decision-making for nearly 48 hours without going public with the truth in an interview taped Thursday morning for “NBC Nightly News.”
On Thursday, Huckabee Sanders told reporters she still believes what she said earlier in the week is accurate, saying Trump, Rosenstein and Session were "on the same page" and just because Trump agreed with them before the memo was crafted did not mean he could not accept their reccomendation to fire Comey.
During an often-combative press briefing, she told reporters of the chaotic and confusing week: "In this process, I gave you the best information I had at the moment." She admitted to not having had a conversation with Trump about his decision-making until just before her Thursday press briefing, nearly two days after the White House announced Comey's ouster.
She also criticized reporters for writing "process stories," and acknowledged the White House wants the FBI to conclude its Russia investigation "soon." She later added "with integrity" to the White House's desires about that probe - but she again swatted away the notion of a need for a special prosecutor or independent counsel to take it over.
Clips of the interview released by the network show Trump blasting Comet as “a showboat” and “a grandstander.” He alleged that Comey — whom he praised in late-October for re-opening the Clinton email case, which is cited in the DOJ memo as a major reason for his firing — had injected “turmoil” into the country’s top law enforcement organization.
“You know that, I know that,” Trump said of his “turmoil” allegation. “Everybody knows that. You take a look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil. Less than a year ago, [and] it hasn’t recovered from that.”
Remarkably, the president of the United States told NBC’s Lester Holt that he asked Comey point blank if the FBI is investigating him as part of its Russian election meddling probe.
Comey’s responds, according to Trump: “You are not under investigation.”
Those conservations could amount to obstruction of justice, some legal analysts said on cable news as the interview clips went public. Huckabee Sanders, however, cited unnamed legal scholars who she said are suggesting otherwise.
Former FBI Director James B. Comey was a central figure in the investigations into scandals surrounding the 2016 presidential campaign and the Trump administration before he was abruptly fired Tuesday.
His unusual choice to announce, just a week and a half before Election Day, that the FBI had reopened its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server is widely believed to have impacted the course of the election.
His departure raises questions about the future of the FBI investigation into connections between the Russian government and members of Trump’s inner circle.
Here’s a look back at how it came to this:
The New York Times reports that Hillary Clinton used a personal email account while she was Secretary of State, a violation of State Department policies and a potential security risk.
Clinton announces she is running for president.
The inspector general for the intelligence community alerts Congressional oversight committees that classified material had been found on Hillary Clinton’s home email server that she had used as Secretary of State. The FBI opens a criminal investigation.
Officials at the Democratic National Committee learn that Russian hackers have invaded their computer system.
Comey delivers a blistering critique of Clinton at a press conference, saying her handling of classified material was, “extremely careless,” and hackers may have compromised her emails. But he concluded that he was recommending against charging Clinton in the case.
Comey testifies before Congress about the Clinton investigation, repeating his criticism and discussing his decision to close the case. He repeats his assertion that the case is closed.
Trump, at a press conference, says he hopes the Russian government has hacked Clinton’s emails and implores it to publish what it found. The comment fuels questions about the Russian government meddling in the campaign.
The FBI opens an investigation into members of the Trump campaigns’ contacts with the Russian government.
Reports surface that former Democratic New York Rep. Anthony Weiner had exchanged sexually explicit messages with a 15-year-old girl, potentially violating child pornography laws.
FBI investigators seize Weiner’s computer. Weiner was married at the time to Clinton confidante and campaign aide Huma Abedin. Agents discover that thousands of Abedin’s emails had been backed up on Weiner’s computers, including some that had apparently moved through Cinton’s server.
Wikileaks begins publishing hacked emails from the private account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
Comey learns of the Clinton emails on Weiner’s server. He determines that he is obligated to tell Congress he is reopening the investigation. He does so in a letter on Oct. 28.
Days before the election, Comey sends a letter to Congress saying that the new emails did not contain any new information.
Trump is elected president.
Comey acknowledges for the first during testimony before the House intelligence Committee that the FBI is investigating connections between members of the Trump administration and the Russian government.
Comey testifies before Congress that Abedin regularly sent emails to Weiner so he could print them out, and that she had sent, “hundreds of thousands of emails,” to Weiner, “some of which contain classified information.”
ProPublica reports that Comey exaggerated the number of emails that Abedin sent to Weiner.
The Washington Post and the Associated Press report that none of the emails were designated as classified when they were sent.
The FBI sends a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley correcting details from Comey’s testimony.
Trump announces that Comey has been dismissed.
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Paul Manafort, Donald Trump's campaign chairman, has resigned, the campaign announced in a statement Friday.
"This morning Paul Manafort offered, and I accepted, his resignation from the campaign," Trump said. "I am very appreciative for his great work in helping to get us where we are today, and in particular his guiding us through the delegate and convention process. Paul is a true professional and I wish him the greatest success."
Manfort's role in the campaign was reportedly diminished this week with the Republican presidential nominee naming longtime adviser Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon as chief executive.
Trump told The Wall Street Journal that he was making the changes because “I want to win. That’s why I’m bringing on fantastic people who know how to win and love to win.”
Friction reportedly developed between Manafort and Trump over the campaign's direction as his poll numbers fell against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Manafort himself has been a distraction to the campaign over questions about his previous business dealings in Ukraine.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Manafort helped a pro-Russia group in Ukraine secretly route more than $2 million in payments to two Washington lobbying firms to try to influence U.S. policy.
On Friday, the AP reported that emails showed Manafort's company led the effort to sway American public opinion in favor of Ukraine's pro-Russian government.
According to the AP, Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates tried to gain positive coverage of Ukrainian politicians in newspapers like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
The report also said Gates, who worked for Manafort at the time, directed Washington, D.C., law firms Mercury LLC and the Podesta Group to set up meetings between Ukrainian officials and members of Congress.
The Podesta Group was co-founded by Tony and John Podesta, who now serves as campaign chairman for Clinton.
The New York Times reported this week that handwritten ledgers designated $12.7 million in payments to Manafort from the pro-Russian party of former President Viktor Yanukovych.