“No, the president had lost … confidence in Director Comey and frankly he’d been considering letting Director Comey go since the day he was elected,” Sanders said.
Yet moments later Sanders suggested that Trump had in fact asked for the memo. Rosenstein and Sessions were at the White House on Monday discussing an unrelated matter, she said, when Rosenstein asked to speak with Trump about Comey. He then laid out his concerns, and the president asked him to put them in writing. After receiving the memo the following day, on Tuesday, Trump decided to fire Comey.
Sanders repeated the idea that Comey was fired for breaking the chain of command at the Department of Justice during the Clinton investigation—what she called, in an unfortunate word choice, “atrocities.” At the same time, however, Sanders offered new reasons for the firing, including Comey’s failure to prevent leaks of sensitive information from the FBI and a pair of factual errors the director made while testifying before a Senate panel last week, which the FBI corrected in a letter to members on Tuesday. Those were “a final piece that pushed the president to make the decision,” Sanders said.
This explanation makes more sense than the idea that Trump fired Comey for being too mean to Hillary Clinton. It also matches up with what Kellyanne Conway said on CNN last night—“This has nothing to do with the campaign from six months ago. This has everything to do with the performance of the FBI director since the president has been in the White House”—as well as with Trump’s own comments to that effect this morning. But it brings with it new questions. For example, why did the documents the White House released cite only the Clinton investigation if in fact there were other reasons? And why, if Trump had lost confidence in Comey so long ago, did Spicer say last week that he had confidence in the FBI director?
In defending Comey’s firing, Trump has pointed out that Democrats were also highly critical of Comey. In what has proved in retrospect to be a tactical error, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said of Comey in November, “I do not have confidence in him any longer,” a comment Trump has cited. Sanders said Trump did not expect the backlash to the firing. “How could he have, considering the fact that most of the people declaring war today were the very ones that were begging for Director Comey to be fired?” she asked.
It is the case that Schumer and others could disapprove of Comey’s job performance while also being upset about the manner and timing of the dismissal, but if Trump fired Comey for reasons other than the Clinton investigation, that muddies the alleged hypocrisy.
The other problem for Trump is that he praised Comey’s decision to write to Congress in late October, informing members that the FBI had discovered new emails related to the Clinton case. “It took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had where they’re trying to protect her from criminal prosecution,” Trump said at the time. “I was not his fan, but I’ll tell you what: What he did, he brought back his reputation. He brought it back.” Now Trump has fired Comey in part for the same acts he once praised.