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Contradictions Cloud Comey Firing

Contradicting White House statements, Trump said he has been considering ousting the FBI director for months because of a lack of “confidence”
James ComeyJames Comey
Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe strongly disputed the White House assertion that Comey had been fired in part because he had lost the confidence of the FBI’s rank-and-file

Contradicting previous White House explanations, US President Donald Trump has declared he had planned to fire FBI Director James Comey all along, regardless of whether top Justice Department officials recommended the stunning step.

His assertions came as Comey’s temporary replacement joined in, contradicting other administration statements on the snowballing controversy.

In an interview with NBC News, Trump also said he had asked Comey point-blank if he was under investigation and was assured three times he was not. Trump showed no concern that the request might be viewed as interference in an active FBI probe into his 2016 campaign’s possible ties to Russia’s election meddling, AP reported.

“I said, ‘If it’s possible, would you let me know, am I under investigation?’ He said you are not under investigation,” Trump said.

He said the discussions happened in two phone calls and at a dinner in which Comey was asking to keep his job. Comey has not confirmed Trump’s account.

The New York Times late Thursday cited two unnamed Comey associates who recounted his tale of a January dinner with the president in which Trump asked for a pledge of loyalty. Comey declined, instead offering “honesty.”

When Trump pressed him for “honest loyalty,” Comey told the president, “You will have that,” said the associates, who told the newspaper they agreed to keep the story confidential while Comey was FBI director.

White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, disputed the report and said the president would “never even suggest the expectation of personal loyalty”.

But the account echoed wording in a comment made a day earlier to AP by longtime Comey friend Daniel Richman, a former federal prosecutor, who said the president had removed “somebody unwilling to pledge absolute loyalty to him”.

The White House initially cited a Justice Department memo criticizing Comey’s handling of last year’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails as the impetus for Trump’s decision. But Trump on Thursday acknowledged for the first time that the Russia investigation, which he dismissed as a “made-up story”, was also on his mind as he ousted the man overseeing the probe.

The shifting accounts of the decision to fire Comey, whom Trump derided as a “showboat” and “grandstander”, added to a mounting sense of uncertainty and chaos in the West Wing, as aides scrambled to get their stories straight and appease an angry president.

Not even Vice President Mike Pence was spared the embarrassment of having told a version of events that was later discredited by Trump.

The White House explanations continued to crumble throughout the day Thursday. On Capitol Hill, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe strongly disputed the White House assertion that Comey had been fired in part because he had lost the confidence of the FBI’s rank-and-file.

“That is not accurate. Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day,” McCabe said.

Unfazed, Sanders insisted she had heard from “countless” members of the FBI who welcomed the president’s decision.

“I was going to fire Comey,” Trump said. “Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.”

That’s far different that the White House’s initial account in the hours after Comey’s firing. Multiple officials, including Pence, said the president was acting at the behest of Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

But it quickly became clear that the president had been stewing for days over the Russia investigation and Comey’s refusal to defend him in appearances before lawmakers.

By Wednesday afternoon, the officials, like Trump, were saying he had in fact been considering ousting the FBI director for months because of a lack of confidence in his ability to lead the agency.

 

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