Trump Lied About Why He Fired Comey, And Right-Wing Media Helped Him Sell It

››› ››› DINA RADTKE & NICK FERNANDEZ

In a letter explaining his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, President Donald Trump cited “letters from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States recommending [FBI Director James Comey’s] dismissal as the Director of the” FBI. After removing Comey, various White House officials and right-wing media figures pushed the claim that Trump “took the recommendation of his deputy attorney general” and fired Comey, but days later, Trump himself admitted that he was thinking of "this Russia thing with Trump" and “was going to fire [Comey] regardless of [a] recommendation” from the Department of Justice or the deputy attorney general.

White House Initially Cites Letter From Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein As Reason Behind Firing Comey

President Donald Trump: “I Have Received Attached Letters From The Attorney General And Deputy Attorney General Of The United States Recommending [Comey’s] Dismissal.” In a letter to FBI Director James Comey, President Trump cited “letters from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States recommending [Comey’s] dismissal as the Director of the” FBI. According to the letter, Trump “concur[ed] with the judgement of the Department of Justice,” and relieved Comey of his duties. [CNN.com, 5/9/17]

Kellyanne Conway: “I Would Point Them To The Three Letters That Were Received Today.” When asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper why the decision was made to fire Comey, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway said “I would point them to the three letters that were received today.”From the May 9 edition of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360:

ANDERSON COOPER (HOST): To those who say, “Why now? Why fire James Comey now?” What do you say?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Well, I would point them to the three letters that were received today, Anderson. The letter by President Donald Trump, the letter by Attorney General Sessions, and, really, the underlying report by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who the FBI director reports to. The FBI director traditionally reports to the deputy attorney general. Rod Rosenstein was confirmed just 14 days ago by a vote of 94-6 by our United States Senators. He is well-respected across both sides of the aisle. He served as US Attorney in Maryland under President Obama, and he sent out a memo today to the attorney general, and the re: line, Anderson, says, quote, “restoring public confidence in the FBI.” [CNN, Anderson Cooper 360, 5/9/17]

Sean Spicer On Decision To Fire James Comey: “It Was All” Rosenstein. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the decision to fire Comey “was all” on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, adding that the dismissal “was a DOJ decision.” From the May 10 Washington Post report:

The first question: Did the president direct Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to conduct a probe of FBI Director James B. Comey?

As Spicer tells it, Rosenstein was confirmed about two weeks ago and independently took on this issue so the president was not aware of the probe until he received a memo from Rosenstein on Tuesday, along with a letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions recommending that Comey be fired. The president then swiftly decided to follow the recommendation, notifying the FBI via email around 5 p.m. and in a letter delivered to the FBI by the president's longtime bodyguard. At the same time, the president personally called congressional leaders to let them know his decision. Comey learned the news from media reports.

“It was all him,” Spicer said of Rosenstein, as a reporter repeated his answer back to him. “That's correct — I mean, I can't, I guess I shouldn't say that, thank you for the help on that one. No one from the White House. That was a DOJ decision.” [The Washington Post, 5/10/17]

Sarah Huckabee Sanders: Trump Decided To Fire Comey After Rosenstein’s Letter Outlined “Atrocities” By Comey.Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Rosenstein saw Comey commit “atrocities” during his tenure at the FBI, adding that, “When [Rosenstein] saw that, he had to speak up on that action, and I think that was the final catalyst” that led to Comey’s dismissal. From the May 10 edition of CNN’s Wolf:

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think also having a letter like the one that he received and having that conversation that outlined the basic -- just atrocities in circumventing the chain of command in the Department of Justice. Any person of legal mind and authority knows what a big deal that is, particularly in the Department of Justice, particularly for somebody like the deputy attorney general who has been part of the Justice Department for 30 years and is such a respected person. When he saw that, he had to speak up on that action, and I think that was the final catalyst. [CNN, Wolf, 5/10/17]

Vice President Mike Pence: Trump’s Decision To Fire Comey Was Based On “The Recommendation Of The Deputy Attorney General.” Vice President Pence said that the president “made the right decision” to fire Comey after he “accepted the recommendation of the deputy attorney general” to do so. From the May 10 edition of CNN’s At This Hour with Kate Bolduan:

MIKE PENCE: President Trump made the right decision at the right time to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general, to ask for the termination, to support the termination of the director of the FBI. It was simply the right decision. Now we go forward. [CNN, At This Hour with Kate Bolduan, 5/10/17]

Trump Later Said He “Was Going To Fire Comey Regardless Of” A Recommendation From The Justice Department And Was Thinking Of "This Russia Thing"

Trump: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein “Made A Recommendation, But Regardless Of Recommendation, I Was Going To Fire Comey.” In an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, the president admitted that he “was going to fire [Comey] regardless of [a] recommendation” from the Department of Justice or the deputy attorney general. From the May 11 edition of MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports:

LESTER HOLT (HOST): Monday you met with the deputy attorney general Ron Rosenstein.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Right.

HOLT: Did you ask for a recommendation?

TRUMP: What I did is I was going to fire Comey. My decision. It was not --

HOLT: You had made the decision before they came in the room?

TRUMP: I was going to fire Comey. There's no good time to do it, by the way. They --

HOLT: Because in your letter you said I have accepted their recommendations. SO you had already made the decision?

TRUMP: I was going to 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. [MSNBC, Andrea Mitchell Reports, 5/11/17]

Wash. Post: Trump "Said He Was Thinking Of 'This Russia Thing With Trump' When He Decided To Fire" Comey. In a May 11 report, The Washington Post noted "President Trump on Thursday said he was "thinking of 'this Russia thing with Trump' when he decided to fire FBI Director James B. Comey." The Post additionally wrote, "Recounting his decision to dismiss Comey, Trump told NBC News, 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 have won.’'" From the May 11 report:

President Trump on Thursday said he was thinking of “this Russia thing with Trump” when he decided to fire FBI Director James B. Comey, who had been leading the counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Recounting his decision to dismiss Comey, Trump told NBC News, “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 have won.’”

Trump’s account flatly contradicts the White House’s initial account of how the president arrived at his decision, undercutting public denials by his aides that the move was influenced in any way by his growing fury with the ongoing Russia probe. [Washington Post,5/11/17]

Right-Wing Media Amplify White House’s Account That Trump’s Decision To Fire Comey Was Based On “A Report From Rod Rosenstein”

Newt Gingrich: Comey’s Firing “Was Not President Trump. This Was Not Him Issuing Orders.” Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich blamed Comey’s firing on “a brand new deputy attorney general” who “offered his best professional judgment,” stating, “This was not President Trump. This was not him issuing orders.” From the May 10 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): Mr. Speaker, do you agree with the timing and the way it was done?

NEWT GINGRICH: Well, I mean, let’s put this in context. You have a brand new deputy attorney general. He is a 30-year career professional in the Justice Department. He was picked by President Obama to be the U.S. attorney for Maryland. The U.S. Senate two weeks ago approved him by 94 to 6. And this is the person who wrote the letter that set the timing. I mean, if you're Donald J. Trump, and you’re sitting there as president, and you’re sitting there as president, and you’re looking at a letter from this person who’s totally non-partisan, who you could argue was acceptable to Barack Obama, and this guy writes you and says, look, you’re never going to rebuild the FBI as long as Comey’s there. Given that Trump is an entrepreneur, Trump understands the term “you're fired,” I mean, what’s he supposed to do? Say oh, gee, I sure do feel bad that this guy has a strong opinion.

[...]

GINGRICH: I want to make a point here. This was not President Trump. This was not him issuing orders. This is a brand new deputy attorney general, independent person, picked by President Obama to be U.S. attorney, approved by the senate 94-6. And now two weeks later they’re going to turn and say, gee, he shouldn't have offered his best professional judgment? And by the way, his letter is devastating, and every American who has doubts should read that letter. You’ll have no doubt at the end of it that President Trump did the right thing. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/10/17]

Fox’s Melissa Francis: Rosenstein Sent A “Recommendation” -- “That’s What They Say Is Behind The Timing. Why Do You Think That’s A Lie?” Fox host Melissa Francis argued that Comey “did maybe 100 things before this that all together led to his firing” and “the person that needed to come in to make that recommendation, make it official, had just been sworn in.” From the May 10 edition of Fox News’ America’s News Headquarters:

MELISSA FRANCIS (HOST): What makes you feel like that's not what's going on right now? Why do you think that the FBI agents who are investigating it currently aren't doing exactly what you just said? Do you have evidence of that?

SEN. BEN CARDIN: No. I think they were doing, pursuing the investigation. We have no reason to believe they were not. But now when they recognize that the head of that investigation, Mr. Comey, can be removed by the White House, I think it adds an intimidating impact on whether they believe their investigation is truly independent.

FRANCIS: What makes you think that director Comey had come to the conclusion that the president was somehow involved and that's why he was fired? What evidence do you have of that? I mean it seems like he did maybe 100 things before this that all together led to his firing, including the fact that the person that needed to come in to make that recommendation, make it official, had just been sworn in? That's what they say is behind the timing. Why do you think that's a lie? [Fox News, America’s News Headquarters, 5/10/17]

Fox & Friends Guest: Trump “Got A Report From Rod Rosenstein” And “Made The Decision.” Fox hosted David Bossie, president of conservative advocacy group Citizens United and Trump campaign deputy campaign manager, argued that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Session gave Trump a report that recommended firing the FBI director, and, subsequently, “the president made the decision.” From the May 10 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): Do you think something happened that we don’t know about to make him fire him in this way?

DAVID BOSSIE: Not necessarily. I think that the president is a decisionmaker. So he got a report from Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general and the attorney general of the United States, who is a member of the president's cabinet, one of his closest advisors, concurred with that opinion. And so, therefore, the president made the decision. There’s no need then to worry about the machinations of who does what when and where. It is simply he made a decision, and he acted upon it. And it is the right call for the FBI. James Comey needed to go. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/10/17]

Fox’s Jon Scott: Trump Accepted “The Recommendation From The New Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein,” And Dismissed Comey. Fox host Jon Scott said that Trump accepted “the recommendation from the new Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.” Scott described Rosenstein as “not a partisan,” and that “it was his decision” to recommend Comey’s removal. From the May 10 edition of Fox News’ Happening Now:

JON SCOTT (HOST): So, there you heard it from the vice president, saying that -- well, he’s applauding the leadership of the president, saying he exercised strong and decisive leadership in accepting the recommendation from the new Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Rosenstein was just confirmed by the Senate on a 94-6 vote. He has served on the Department of Justice under both Republican and Democratic presidents. He is considered not a partisan and it was his decision, we are told, that the director of the FBI, James Comey, needed to go. [Fox News, Happening Now, 5/10/17]

Hugh Hewitt: Rosenstein “Recommended” That Trump Fire Comey, And “I Think Trump Just Took The Recommendation.” Talk radio host Hugh Hewitt said that Rosenstein “recommended” that Trump remove Comey, and that the president “just took the recommendation.” From the May 10 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe:

HUGH HEWITT: I did not watch any of the White House spin last night, because I read the Rosenstein memo three times, and he is repeating what every former [assistant US attorney] who was in the Department of Justice when I was in the Department of Justice, and Bill Webster was the FBI director, which is that Director Comey has had ten terrible months.

[...]

I’m not talking about the inconsistency with Trump here, I’m talking about what Rod Rosenstein said.

NICOLLE WALLACE: Rod Rosenstein didn’t decide to fire him.

HEWITT: He recommended it, and he’s the director report, and I think Trump just took the recommendation. [MSNBC, Morning Joe, 5/10/17]

Breitbart: Trump “Took Up [Rosenstein’s] Recommendation” To Fire Comey. According to Breitbart, “Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein delivered a memorandum to Attorney General Jeff Sessions … recommending the dismissal of FBI Director James Comey,” and, after reviewing Rosenstein’s letter, Attorney General Jeff Sessions “accepted the conclusions of the memo … and recommended Comey’s dismissal.” From the May 9 article:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein delivered a memorandum to Attorney General Jeff Sessions Tuesday recommending the dismissal of FBI Director James Comey.

[...]

Attorney General Sessions appears to have accepted the conclusions of the memo and recommended Comey’s dismissal. President Donald Trump took up that recommendation Tuesday when he sent the FBI Director a letter of dismissal, effective immediately. [Breitbart, 5/9/17]

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