Did Trump Fire Comey Over the Russia Inquiry or Not?
Posted May 31, 2018 4:42 p.m. EDT
WHAT WAS SAID
“Not that it matters but I never fired James Comey because of Russia! The Corrupt Mainstream Media loves to keep pushing that narrative, but they know it is not true!”
— President Donald Trump, in a tweet posted May 31
This requires context.
Trump and his aides have given a number of conflicting reasons — sometimes within hours of each other or even in the same interview — for why he fired Comey from his position as FBI director on May 9, 2017. At the time, Comey was leading the investigation into whether Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign had coordinated with Russian election meddling.
Initially, the White House cited a recommendation from Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who criticized Comey’s handling of the conclusion of a separate investigation into whether Hillary Clinton mishandled classified emails.
On May 10, 2017, Trump informed Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting that he had fired Comey. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off,” Trump told the Russians, as The New York Times has reported.
And in an NBC News interview broadcast on May 11, 2017, Trump said he had made up his mind to fire Comey — even before Rosenstein’s recommendation — at least partly because of the Russia investigation:
“But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, 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 that they should’ve won.”
However, in that same interview with the NBC News anchor Lester Holt, Trump also said Comey was fired because of his incompetence — a decision the president acknowledged could drag out the Russia investigation:
“As far as I’m concerned, I want that thing to be absolutely done properly. When I did this now, I said I probably maybe will confuse people. Maybe I’ll expand that — you know, I’ll lengthen the time because it should be over with. It should — in my opinion, should’ve been over with a long time ago because it — all it is an excuse. But I said to myself I might even lengthen out the investigation. But I have to do the right thing for the American people. He’s the wrong man for that position.”
A few months later, Trump again said he would have fired Comey regardless of Rosenstein’s recommendation. “Now, perhaps I would have fired Comey anyway, and it certainly didn’t hurt to have the letter, OK. But he gives me a very strong letter, and now he’s involved in the case,” the president said in a July 2017 interview with The Times.
Then, in a January 2018 interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump said he fired Comey because “the FBI was a mess” and “everybody wanted Comey fired.”
Trump’s aides also have given conflicting reasons for Comey’s firing.
In a May 2 interview with Fox News, Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, said the former FBI director was fired because he would not say Trump was not under investigation:
“He fired Comey because Comey would not, among other things, say that he wasn’t a target of the investigation. He’s entitled to that. Hillary Clinton got that. Actually, he couldn’t get that. So, he fired him and he said, I’m free of the guy, and he went on Lester Holt. Lester Holt’s interview was as good as anybody could do, better than I think any of the people around Mueller could have done, and Lester Holt asked them, why did you do it? He said, I did it because I felt that I had to explain to the American people the president was not the target of the investigation.”
But a day later, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, contradicted Giuliani and again cited Comey’s “lying, leaking and politicizing the FBI.”
The president’s Thursday tweet follows a report published Wednesday in The Times, about an FBI memo outlining the conversations that led to Comey’s firing. That memo was written by Andrew McCabe, who became acting director of the FBI after Comey was dismissed.
In the memo, McCabe described a meeting at the Justice Department during which Rosenstein said the president had originally asked him to reference Russia in his memo. As The Times reported:
One person who was briefed on Rosenstein’s conversation with the president said Trump had simply wanted Rosenstein to mention that he was not personally under investigation in the Russia inquiry. Rosenstein said it was unnecessary and did not include such a reference. Trump ultimately said it himself when announcing the firing.
McCabe was fired in March from the FBI, where he had most recently served as deputy director.
— Sources: New York Times, NBC News, Fox News, the White House