Caitlin MacNeal

Caitlin MacNeal is a News Writer based in Washington, D.C. Before joining TPM, Caitlin interned and wrote for the Huffington Post, the Sunlight Foundation and Slate. She is a graduate of Georgetown University.

Articles by Caitlin

Since the bombshell news dropped that James Comey was fired as director of the FBI, the White House has slowly shifted its narrative on the reasoning behind the move, placing more emphasis on President Donald Trump’s unhappiness with Comey.

In the initial aftermath, the White House emphasized the role of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, insisting that he initiated a review of Comey without any direction from the White House. But the administration has started changing its tune, perhaps because Rosenstein threatened to quit when he realized the White House was pinning the decision on him, as the Washington Post reported Wednesday night.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied to reporters Tuesday night that Rosenstein acted on orders from the White House. And Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders emphasized in an interview Tuesday night that Trump acted on a recommendation from Rosenstein.

However, at the White House daily briefing Wednesday afternoon, Sanders shifted the narrative slightly, placing more emphasis on Trump’s unhappiness with Comey. She cited Comey’s inaccurate testimony during a hearing last week and his decision to hold a press conference in July 2016 to discuss the FBI’s findings in the Hillary Clinton email probe. She also acknowledged that Trump had been unhappy with Comey for a while and that “he’d been considering letting Director Comey go since the day he was elected.”

Later on Wednesday, the White House sent a timeline of the run-up to Comey’s firing to White House reporters that took some of the heat off of Rosenstein. Trump “lost confidence” in Comey “over the last several months” and “was strongly inclined to remove him” after his hearing on Capitol Hill last week, according to the White House timeline. Trump then met with Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday where “they discussed reasons for removing the Director,” per the White House. The administration did not say who initiated the meeting about Comey, however. Rosenstein then sent his written recommendation to Sessions on Tuesday, per the White House.

Finally, on Thursday morning, Sanders told NBC’s “Today” that the decision to fire Comey rested solely with Trump.

“I’m not aware of that conversation, but I do know that the decision to fire Director Comey was the President’s and the President’s alone. Obviously he took their recommendation very seriously, but the President had been thinking about this since November, since he was elected president,” Sanders said when Matt Lauer asked about the Washington Post’s report that Rosenstein threatened to quit. “This was something he had considered. He had never been solidly on board with keeping Comey for the long term, and the erosion of confidence had been taking place over a long period of time.”

She also mentioned Comey’s testimony on the Hill last week and said that Trump asked for “feedback” from Sessions and Rosenstein. They spoke with the President and then he asked them for a written recommendation, Sanders told “Today.”

During an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” co-host George Stephanopoulos noted to Sanders that the White House initially said that Rosenstein came up with the recommendation on Comey on his own.

“That wasn’t true, was it?” he asked.

“I think you’re putting things a little out of context here. The information in the letter was something that he came to on his own,” Sanders replied. “On Monday, they were at the White House for other meetings. The President asked them about their opinions on Comey. They told him. He asked for them to put that in writing, the conversation that they had had orally there at the White House on Monday. ”

“But it wasn’t directed or those — the words that were written weren’t at the direction necessarily of the President. Those were their own thoughts and ideas,” she added.

In response, Stephanopoulos noted that Spicer denied the White House had any involvement in Rosenstein’s decision and that Vice President Mike Pence suggested Rosenstein wrote the memo of his own volition, saying that he “came to work, sat down and made the recommendation.”

Stephanopoulos asked Sanders, “[Trump] directed him to write this memo, didn’t he?”

“He did not direct him to write the context of the memo. He asked him to put the comments that he had already made directly to the President in writing,” Sanders replied, adding that the memo included “original thoughts by Mr. Rosenstein.”

This post has been updated.

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In the immediate aftermath of President Donald Trump’s decision to fire James Comey as the director of the FBI, the White House signaled that a review of Comey started with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, which reportedly frustrated Rosenstein.

When he realized that the White House was trying to pin Comey’s departure on him, Rosenstein threatened to quit, the Washington Post reported Wednesday night, citing an unnamed “person close to the White House.”

On Thursday morning ABC News’ Jonathan Karl also reported that Rosenstein considered quitting over the White House’s initial narrative surrounding Comey’s firing.

Reports suggest that Trump had been considering firing Comey for at least a week and that the President had been growing increasingly angry over Comey’s actions. Per the Washington Post:

Trump was angry that Comey would not support his baseless claim that President Barack Obama had his campaign offices wiretapped. Trump was frustrated when Comey revealed in Senate testimony the breadth of the counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s effort to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election. And he fumed that Comey was giving too much attention to the Russia probe and not enough to investigating leaks to journalists.

Trump was also unhappy with the attention Comey received in the media, according to the Wall Street Journal. Trump “viewed Mr. Comey as eager to step in front of TV cameras and questioned whether his expanding media profile was warping his view of the Russia investigation,” the Journal reported.

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House Oversight Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) on Wednesday called on the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate the firing of James Comey as the director of the FBI.

“Previously I asked Inspector General Horowitz to review the FBI’s actions in advance of the 2016 election. Today I sent a letter urging IG Horowitz to expand the scope of his review to include the decision to fire Director Comey. I look forward to receiving the IG’s findings,” Chaffetz said in a statement.

The inspector general for the Justice Department, Michael Horowitz, had announced in January that he would look into decisions made at the FBI in the run-up to the 2016 election, including those made as part of the probe into Hillary Clinton’s email use.

In a letter on Wednesday, Chaffetz asked Horowitz  to look at “the facts and circumstances surrounding the removal of Director Comey.”

“You stated previously that your work includes an examination of whether Comey’s public communications and notifications to Congress about the Clinton investigation comported with Justice Department and FBI policies and procedures. You separately stated ‘if circumstances warrant, the OIG will consider including other issues that may arise during the course of the review.’ The recommendation to remove Comey indeed warrants such consideration,” Chaffetz wrote.

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Karen Handel, the Republican candidate in the runoff to fill an open U.S. House seat in Georgia, on Wednesday praised President Donald Trump for firing James Comey as the director of the FBI.

“It’s been clear for some time that FBI Director Comey has lost the confidence of Republicans, Democrats and broader institutions, and his removal as FBI Director was probably overdue,” Handel said in a statement. “I hope that the President will quickly nominate a strong, independent leader as the next Director of the FBI and that the Senate will consider the nomination as quickly as possible.”

Her opponent in the race, Democrat Jon Ossoff, on Tuesday night called for a special prosecutor to investigate potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in light of Comey’s firing.

Before securing a spot in the runoff, Handel was reluctant to embrace Trump, barely mentioning the President on the campaign trail. But since the initial jungle primary in April, Handel has taken a slightly different tack, beginning with her comments welcoming Trump to campaign with her.

Handel and Ossoff will face off on June 20 for the House seat representing Georgia’s historically ruby-red Sixth Congressional District, and as one of the first hotly contested House races since the 2016 election, political observers view it as a referendum on Trump’s young presidency. Democrats are optimistic about winning the race because Trump only won the district by one point in November.

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Vice President Mike Pence briefly addressed reporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday, where he insisted that FBI’s Russia investigation did not play a role in President Donald Trump’s decision to fire James Comey as the director of the bureau.

“As you know very clearly — as has been stated repeatedly and the President has been told — he’s not under investigation, and as former Director Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said, there is no evidence of collusion between our campaign and any Russian officials,” Pence told reporters when first asked by NBC’s Kristen Welker if Trump fired Comey in an attempt to interfere with the FBI probe.

“That’s not what this is about,” Pence continued. “The President took strong and decisive leadership here to put the safety and the security of the American people first by accepting the recommendation of the deputy attorney general to remove Director Comey as the head of the FBI.”

Asked if there should be an independent probe of potential links between Trump associates and Russia, Pence claimed that there is “no evidence of collusion” and repeated the President’s claim that Comey told Trump he was not under investigation.

“The evidence or the facts that are in public today are very clear. The former director of national intelligence has said there is no evidence of collusion,” Pence told reporters. “The President and I remain confident that the committees in the House and the Senate that are looking into every aspect of issues that arise out of last year’s election will be able to do their work and do it in an orderly way.”

Trump administration officials often cite comments made by James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, that he had not seen any evidence of links between the Trump campaign and Russia. However, Clapper noted in a Senate hearing on Monday that he was never even aware of the FBI’s investigation into the matter until after Comey made the probe’s existence public.

Speaking to reporters, Pence emphasized that Trump moved to fire Comey after seeing a recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

“Let me be very clear that the President’s decision to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to remove Director Comey as the head of the FBI was based solely and exclusively on his commitment to the best interest of the American people and to ensuring that the FBI has the trust and confidence of the people of this nation,” Pence said when asked a second time if the Russia probe was a factor in Trump’s decision.

Asked if Trump had directed Rosenstein to conduct the review of Comey, Pence did not deny that Trump gave the Justice Department any direction. Instead he repeated that Trump acted on Rosenstein’s recommendation.

“The new deputy attorney general, who was just sworn in two weeks ago and confirmed by the FBI, came to work — he is a man of extraordinary independence and integrity and a reputation in both political parties of great character — came to work, sat down and made the recommendation for the FBI to be able to do its job that it would need new leadership,” Pence said.

“He brought that recommendation to the President, the attorney general concurred with that recommendation, and I personally am grateful that we have a President who is willing to provide the kind of decisive and strong leadership to take the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to remove an FBI director who had lost the confidence of the American people,” Pence said.

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The morning after the White House’s abrupt announcement that President Donald Trump had fired James Comey as director of the FBI, it’s still unclear how exactly the administration came to the conclusion that Comey must go.

The narrative out of the White House on the lead-up to Comey’s firing conflicts with press accounts on the decision-making process within the administration.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Tuesday night that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein independently launched a review of Comey and denied that the deputy attorney general drew up the letter at the request of the White House.

“It was all him,” Spicer said, according to the Washington Post. “No one from the White House. That was a DOJ decision.”

However, press reports indicate that Trump asked the Justice Department to find reasons to fire Comey.

Anonymous Trump administration aides told the New York Times that White House and DOJ officials “had been charged with building a case to justify Mr. Comey’s firing since at least last week, and that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had been tasked with coming up with reasons to fire him.” CNN reported that Trump “had been considering firing Comey for at least a week,” and that Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions “began fine-tuning their rationale for removing Comey” after they learned Trump wanted him gone. According to Politico, the President “had talked about the firing for more than a week, and the letters were written to give him rationale to fire Comey.”

These press accounts paint a picture of a frustrated Trump who spent more than a week finalizing his decision to fire Comey. Trump was also unhappy with the media attention received by Comey. The Wall Street Journal reported:

In the months before his decision to dismiss Mr. Comey as head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mr. Trump grew unhappy that the media spotlight kept shining on the director. He viewed Mr. Comey as eager to step in front of TV cameras and questioned whether his expanding media profile was warping his view of the Russia investigation, the officials said.

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Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday night said that the focus on the probe into links between Trump associates and Russia is “absurd.”

During an interview on Fox News, host Tucker Carlson asked Sanders how the firing of James Comey as FBI director would impact the Russia probe. Sanders said that Comey’s departure won’t change anything about the investigation. She then launched into a rant about the probe.

“When are they gonna let that go?” she asked. “It’s been going on for nearly a year. Frankly, it’s kind of getting absurd. There’s nothing there. We’ve heard it time and time again. We heard it in the testimonies earlier this week. We’ve heard it for the last 11 months. There is no ‘there’ there. It’s time to move on, and frankly, it’s time to focus on things the American people care about.”

She doubled down on this sentiment Tuesday morning during an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Asked if she knew something that nobody else knew about the probe, Sanders replied, “I know that person after person, including your own Joe Scarborough, have said there’s no evidence of collusion here. They’ve been pushing on this for months.”

“Morning Joe” co-host Joe Scarborough jumped in to object to Sanders’ characterization of his comments, emphasizing that there has not yet been any “obvious” evidence leaked to the press.

Watch Sanders’ interview on Fox News:

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The morning after he fired James Comey as the director of the FBI, President Donald Trump fired off several tweets defending his decision and criticizing Democrats for questioning the move.

Trump began the series of tweets just after 7 a.m., mixing his own thoughts with retweets of the Drudge Report.

He also singled out Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in a tweet late Monday night.

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When the news broke that President Trump had fired James Comey, the former FBI director was addressing a group of FBI employees in Los Angeles. Comey laughed and said it was a prank before his aides confirmed the news, according to a report in the New York Times.

Per the Times:

Mr. Comey was addressing a group of F.B.I. employees in Los Angeles when a television in the background flashed the news that he had been fired.

In response, Mr. Comey laughed, saying he thought it was a fairly funny prank.

Then his staff started scurrying around in the background and told Mr. Comey that he should step into a nearby office.

Trump had dispatched Keith Schiller, a top aide and former bodyguard to Trump, to the FBI to hand deliver the letter notifying Comey of his firing, but the FBI director was out of town.

CNN also reported that Comey first saw the news of his firing on television and made a joke about it before confirming the reports’ validity:

TVs set to cable news inside the room he was speaking began airing reports of his demise midway through his speech. He made a joke about it to lighten the situation, phoned back to FBI headquarters, and received official confirmation that his tenure atop the law enforcement agency was over.

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The morning after FBI Director James Comey was fired, the White House announced that President Donald Trump would meet with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.

Trump and Lavrov are expected to discuss Syria and the fight against terrorism in a follow-up conversation to Trump’s phone conversation with Vladimir Putin a week ago, according to the Washington Post.

Trump’s meeting with Lavrov will come less than 24 hours after Comey was let go as director of the FBI. At the helm of the FBI, Comey was leading the probe into potential ties between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian officials. Comey’s firing prompted concern from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers about the probe into Russia’s election meddling.

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