Hours after President Donald Trump fired James Comey as FBI director, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway went on CNN to defend the president against charges he is interfering with an investigation into his own team. But her defense ended up muddling the administration’s official line by directly contradicting the stated pretext for Comey’s ouster.
Conway was armed with a 3-page memo penned by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, in which the administration’s official rationale for dumping Comey is spelled out. Comey’s conduct in 2016 regarding the bureau’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server had destroyed public confidence in the agency, Rosenstein wrote. The Trump administration says this left the president with little choice but to fire him.
The ongoing FBI and congressional inquiries into Trump advisers’ contacts with the Russian government during the 2016 election, however, suggest a far simpler and dirtier explanation for Comey’s sudden firing.
Conway’s job on CNN was to tamp down criticisms that Trump fired the man in charge of figuring out if the president’s own crew had untoward interactions with a foreign state. She may have done the opposite.
“This has nothing to do with the campaign from 6 months ago,” Conway told Anderson Cooper near the end of their contentious interview. “This has everything to do with the performance of the FBI director since the President has been in the White House.”
Jargon-obsessed beltway journalists like to label this sort of thing a “Kinsley gaffe,” a made-up term for when a political figure who needs to spin something accidentally tells the truth.
Trump has reportedly become obsessed with getting Russia investigations out of the news.
“He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn’t disappear” and “would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe,” Politico reported Wednesday morning.
The White House and Justice Department “had been working to come up with reasons” to fire Comey for at least a week before Tuesday’s move, the New York Times’ Michael Schmidt has reported. Senior FBI officials have told NBC News they believe Trump and Sessions — who had ostensibly recused himself from all matters to do with Russia probes — want “to replace [Comey] with someone who will close” the investigation.