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.