“I had a dinner with him,” Trump began. “He wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on. We had a very nice dinner at the White House. The dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner. And he wanted to stay on as the FBI head. And I said, I’ll consider it. We’ll see what happens.” Note that statement. In Trump’s telling, Comey asked to stay on, and Trump said, “I’ll consider it. We’ll see what happens.”
Here’s what Trump said next on NBC:
“We had a very nice dinner. And at that time he told me you are not under investigation. Which I knew anyway. First of all, when you’re under investigation, you’re giving all sorts of documents and everything else, so I knew that I was not under.” As the Washington Post put it, “The exchange as described by the president is remarkable since he said the FBI director was discussing an ongoing investigation with the president — something Justice Department policy generally prohibits — at the same time Comey was seeking assurances he would remain in his job.”
Now back to the NBC interview.
“Then, during another phone call, he said it,” Trump continued, “and during another phone call he said it. He said it once at dinner and he said it twice during phone calls.”
“Did you call him?” Holt asked.
“In one case I called him and in one case he called me,” Trump answered.
“And did you ask, ‘Am I under investigation?’” Holt asked.
“I actually asked him, yes,” Trump answered. “I said, ‘If it’s possible, would you let me know, am I under investigation? He said, ‘You are not under investigation.’”
Again, Trump is a serial liar whose account of events cannot be trusted. Still, it is noteworthy that according to the president, the FBI director asked to keep his job; Trump replied “we’ll see what happens;” and later, Trump, having made no job guarantee, called the FBI director––perhaps after figuring out that targets of criminal investigations aren’t tipped off with paperwork–– and asked if he could be tipped off, though the FBI would never provide that courtesy to a less-connected individual.
At best, that is unethical behavior. It unquestionably violates clear, longstanding norms. And it is the context for Trump later saying, “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 for the Democrats to have lost an election that they should have won.”
It is the context for White House spokesperson Kellyanne Conway offering this explanation for why Comey was fired: “I think this is an all of the above answer, that the president has been watching. And the president expects people who are serving in his administration to be loyal to the country and to be loyal to the administration.”
And is vital context for this New York Times story:
Only seven days after Donald J. Trump was sworn in as president, James B. Comey has told associates, the F.B.I. director was summoned to the White House for a one-on-one dinner with the new commander in chief. The conversation that night in January, Mr. Comey now believes, was a harbinger of his downfall this week as head of the F.B.I., according to two people who have heard his account of the dinner.
As they ate, the president and Mr. Comey made small talk about the election and the crowd sizes at Mr. Trump’s rallies. The president then turned the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him. Mr. Comey declined to make that pledge. Instead, Mr. Comey has recounted to others, he told Mr. Trump that he would always be honest with him, but that he was not “reliable” in the conventional political sense.
The White House says this account is not correct.
The anonymously sourced New York Times account is much more damning for Trump. But notice that even Trump’s version of events, as he recounts them, is damning, even apart from the ways that it flatly contradicts recent White House statements.