In his first press conference since a bombshell report dropped alleging that he pressured James Comey to drop the FBI probe into his ousted national security adviser, President Donald Trump on Thursday contradicted his own previously stated rationale—not to mention the various media accounts—surrounding Comey’s firing.
During a joint appearance with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Trump called the federal investigation into his campaign’s possible ties to Russian officials who interfered in the U.S. election “ridiculous” and made a point of noting he got a “very very strong recommendation” from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein regarding Comey’s termination.
Yet while Trump’s communications staff had pinned the decision to fire Comey on Rosenstein’s recommendation in the days following Comey’s abrupt ouster last week, in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt two days after Comey’s firing Trump acknowledged that he “was going to fire” the FBI director “regardless of recommendation.”
For his part, Rosenstein, who briefed the full Senate behind closed doors shortly before Trump and Santos held their press conference Thursday, said that he “knew that Comey was going to be removed prior to him writing his memo,” according to the account Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) gave reporters.
Trump also asserted in the joint press conference that Comey’s erroneous Senate testimony earlier this month on the probe into Hillary Clinton’s email server—which the FBI corrected in a letter just half an hour before Comey was fired—was the reason “why the deputy attorney general went out and wrote his very, very strong letter.”
But Attorney General Jeff Sessions had been charged with coming up with reasons to fire Comey, according to the New York Times, which reported that officials in the White House and DOJ began building a case against the former FBI chief the week prior to his ouster.
Comey’s firing prompted anger from congressional Democrats who accused Trump of wanting to quash the investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia. The New York Times report on Tuesday that revealed Comey documented Trump’s request that the bureau lay off its probe of Michael Flynn brought accusations of obstruction of justice to a fever pitch.
Trump also asserted Thursday that the FBI’s “special reputation” had been damaged with “what happened with respect to the Clinton campaign.” While Rosenstein sharply criticized Comey’s handling of the Clinton email server probe in his memo to Trump, the President himself heaped praise on Comey during the campaign for his actions.
Trump closed his argument against the investigation, which he has called a “hoax,” by declaring that “even my enemies have said there is no collusion.”
The three federal and congressional investigations into that very question belie Trump’s boast.