On Thursday morning, President Trump tweeted that he “never fired James Comey because of Russia!” Unfortunately of Trump, however, he admitted he fired Comey because of the FBI’s investigation on national TV last year.
During a CNN interview conducted shortly after Trump posted his tweet, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) was asked to make sense of the discrepancy between what Trump had just tweeted and what he told NBC’s Lester Holt last year — “And in fact when I decided to just do it [i.e., fire Comey], I said to myself, I said ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.'”
“The president now says he did not fire James Comey because of Russia, but that’s not true, is it?” host John Berman asked Lee.
“Look, my understanding at the time he did it was that he was concerned about the way that Mr. Comey had handled the Hillary Clinton investigation,” Lee said, alluding to the White House’s initial, transparently absurd rationale for the Comey firing — that he needed to go because he treated Hillary Clinton unfairly during the course of the FBI’s investigation of her emails.
Berman responded by playing Lee the clip of Trump telling Holt that “regardless of [the] recommendation” he received from the Justice Department, “he was going to fire Comey.”
“President Trump told us it was about Russia,” Berman pointed out.
But even though his talking point had just been debunked live on national television, Lee forged ahead with insisting that Comey’s firing was really about the Clinton email investigation.
“Well, it was also about the Hillary investigation,” Lee replied. “The fact that he might have had a lot of things on his mind, including the fact that he believed that the Russia thing was made up, still doesn’t negate the fact that he had adequate reason to fire him and that the had adequate authority to fire him.”
Pressed on the abundant evidence that the decision to fire Comey was largely about Russia, Lee fell back on claiming that he has “yet to see any piece of evidence, any shred of evidence, any scintilla of evidence suggesting that there was in fact collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.” (Senator Lee is apparently unfamiliar with Donald Trump Jr.’s emails.)
Sen. Lee wasn’t the only Republican member of Congress from Utah who went on CNN on Thursday and tried to gaslight the country about Trump’s statements. Later, Rep. Chris Stewart joined Poppy Harlow and made a desperate attempt to substantiate Trump’s claims that the FBI inappropriately “spied” on his campaign in 2016 — claims that were debunked by House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) on Tuesday.
“So I’m sure you’ve heard, congressman, your fellow Republican congressman say ‘look, the FBI in the early days of the Russia probe did exactly what the American people would want them to do. They acted appropriately, these were not spies in the Trump campaign.’ The president says the opposite — who’s right?” Harlow asked him.
“The thing is, Poppy, we don’t know yet,” Stewart replied. “And part of the reason we don’t know is because we haven’t actually seen the documents.”
CNN: Well, Gowdy has, and he says the FBI actually performed admirably.
STEWART: ¯_(ツ)_/¯ pic.twitter.com/BpGcf8b8ZJ
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 31, 2018
But as Harlow pointed out, Gowdy, as chair of the oversight committee, has in fact seen all of the relevant documents. Stewart replied by suggesting Trump still might be right about FBI spying, even if no documents support him.
“You report, and others report on things all of the time which is [sic] undocumented, from unverified sources and from documents which we haven’t seen, so that can’t be the threshold for making a comment on something,” Stewart said.