Explaining Comey’s firing challenges White House advisers
WASHINGTON — The White House’s explanation of President Donald Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey has been a moving target.
Since the explosive decision was announced Tuesday, the president’s advisers have struggled to come up with a consistent timeline and rationale. They said Trump was prompted by a scathing memo written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, only to acknowledge Trump had been planning to fire Comey regardless of the recommendation. They’ve distanced the decision from the FBI probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 campaign, only to later suggest Comey’s firing would aid the investigation.
Trump defended the inconsistency, tweeting Friday that “as a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!”
He added, “Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future ‘press briefings’ and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted the information she and her colleagues offered was consistent. “It was a quick-moving process,” she said. “We took the information we had as best we have it and got it out to the American people as quickly as we could.”
Here’s a look at some of the contradictions uttered over the last several days:
WHOSE IDEA WAS THE MEMO?
Tuesday: “It was all him. No one from the White House. That was a DOJ decision,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said, laying the impetus for the memo building the case for Comey’s firing on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Wednesday: “He did have a conversation with the deputy attorney general on Monday where they had come to him to express their concerns. The president asked that they put those concerns and their recommendation in writing, which is the letter that you guys have received,” Sanders said, describing the president’s instructions to Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
WHAT ROLE DID IT PLAY IN TRUMP’S DECISION?
Wednesday: “People in the Justice Department made a very strong recommendation, the president followed it and he made a quick and decisive action to fire James Comey. He took the recommendation seriously. And he made a decision based on that,” Sanders said in an interview with MSNBC.
Thursday: “Oh, I was going fire regardless of recommendation … he made a recommendation, he’s highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy, the Democrats like him, the Republicans like him, he made a recommendation but regardless of recommendation I was going to fire Comey,” Trump said in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt.
WHEN DID TRUMP DECIDE?
Wednesday: “No,” Sanders said, when asked if the president had already decided to fire Comey on Monday when he asked Rosenstein for the memo.
Thursday: “He had already made that decision. He’d been thinking about it for months, which I did say yesterday and have said many times since. … the recommendation I guess he got from the deputy attorney general just further solidified his decision and, again, I think, reaffirmed that he made the right one,” Sanders said in the White House briefing.
WAS THIS ABOUT THE FBI’S RUSSIA INVESTIGATION?
Tuesday: “This has nothing to do with Russia,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told CNN.
Thursday: “We want this to come to its conclusion, we want it to come to its conclusion with integrity,” Sanders said of the Russia probe. “And we think that we’ve actually, by removing Director Comey, taken steps to make that happen.”
Associated Press writer Vivian Salama contributed to this report.