Donald Trump fired James Comey four months ago, but the White House is still hung up on the former FBI director. In a highly unusual move, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders on Wednesday read from the lectern in the Brady Briefing Room a rationale for prosecuting Comey, even as she said it was not her role to decide such questions—appearing to encourage the Department of Justice to investigate a man who poses a political liability for the president.
The latest flare-up of the White House’s war on Comey began with 60 Minutes’ weekend interview with fired White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who reportedly opposed removing Comey in May. Bannon confirmed to Charlie Rose that he thought firing Comey was the worst mistake in modern political history. “I don't think there's any doubt that if James Comey had not been fired, we would not have a special counsel,” Bannon said.
On Monday, Sarah Sanders replied during a White House briefing, accusing Comey of giving “false testimony,” a serious claim that she did not substantiate. On Tuesday, she portrayed the decision to fire Comey as an act of political bravery. “The president was 100 percent right in firing James Comey,” Sanders said. “He knew at the time that it could be bad for him politically but he also knew and he felt he had an obligation to do what was right, and do what was right for the American people and certainly the men and women at the FBI.” She went on:
I think there is no secret [that] Comey, by his own self-admission, leaked privileged government information. Weeks before President Trump fired him, Comey testified that an FBI agent engaged in the same practice; they face serious repercussions. I think he set his own stage for himself on that front. His actions were improper and likely could have been illegal. Comey leaked memos to The New York Times, your own outlet. He politicized an investigation by signaling he would exonerate Hillary Clinton before he ever interviewed her or other key witnesses.
As reporters immediately realized, that sounded like the president’s chief spokeswoman calling for the Justice Department to prosecute Comey, which would be both an escalation of rhetoric and a highly unusual suggestion that a political opponent face prosecution.