As is no surprise, we’re now hearing the first accounts of James Comey’s recollections of his interactions with the President. Today, President Trump (not terribly plausibly) claimed that Comey three times assured him he was not under investigation. The first assurance came in a private dinner; the next two came in phone conversations. Comey’s version, not surprisingly, differs from Trump’s. But just as interesting as the recollections is the date.
According to Comey’s version, relayed to the Times through people close to Comey, the two men met for a private dinner on January 27th at which Trump asked Comey to pledge to him his personal loyalty. (Yes, this is a mindbogglingly inappropriate thing to have happened; all but unimaginable. But here we are.) Comey says he pledged his ‘honesty’ but could not pledge ‘loyalty’. In Comey’s telling, the two further interactions had Trump again pushing and Comey again resisting.
I want to come back to some of the nuances of the Times piece and thoughts about each man’s relative credibility. But for now, let’s look at this timeline, adding this new information to dates we already know.
January 20th: Trump inaugurated as the 45th President.
January 24th: Michael Flynn interviewed by the FBI at the White House, reportedly with no lawyer present.
January 25th: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates briefed by the FBI on interview with Michael Flynn.
January 26th: Yates visits the White House to give White House Counsel Donald McGahn a ‘heads up’ about concerns that Flynn had been compromised by his dealings with and deceptions about contacts with Russian government officials.
January 27th: Yates returns to the White House for further discussions with McGahn.
January 27th: Trump has private dinner with James Comey at the White House.
An additional detail is that various published reports, in addition to statements by Sean Spicer, say that McGahn briefed Trump about the Yates’ discussion shortly after he met with her. That would appear to be on January 26th, though I’m not sure we know for a certainty that it was within hours of the first meeting rather than the second.
We need a lot more information. The most immediate question is: what had the President been told when he sat down with Comey for the loyalty dinner? Assuming Comey’s version is accurate and Trump requested the dinner, when did the request come? Did he contact Comey on the 26th or 27th or earlier?
It seems highly probable that Trump went into the dinner with Comey having just learned about the DOJ warnings about Flynn, indeed that the FBI was investigating Flynn. We can’t know for sure. But it seems possible that the dinner request came after Trump learned of these things and may indeed have been triggered by that new information.
There are many questions.