When the President of the United States fires an FBI Director who is currently investigating his campaign for possible collusion with a foreign power, it can be hard to keep track of what led the country to this bizarre place. When that president is Donald Trump, with all attendant rhetoric, contradictions, tweets, and orbiting chaos, it can be impossible.
But a look at Trump’s public statements and actions about James Comey reveals two trends. The first is straightforward politics: during the campaign, Trump praised the FBI when Trump believed it was investigating Hillary Clinton, and criticized it when he did not. The second is straightforward executive branch power dynamics: Trump was publicly fine with Comey until Comey said he was investigating Trump’s ties to Russia. After that, it was a relatively quick descent into enmity.
A lot has happened over the last few months, so here’s a comprehensive timeline of all Trump has said and done about the Russia investigation and James Comey, his now-former FBI director.
July 5, 2016: Trump publicly discusses Comey for the first time
Comey first comes onto Trump’s public radar after Comey announced there would be no charges with regard to Clinton’s handling of her State Department emails.
FBI director said Crooked Hillary compromised our national security. No charges. Wow! #RiggedSystem
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 5, 2016
July 27, 2016: Trump suggests on Twitter that if Russian hackers have Hillary Clinton’s emails, they should share them with the FBI
He later said he was being sarcastic.
October 12, 2016: Trump promises to investigate the “phony” FBI investigation of Clinton’s emails
And furthermore we are going to investigate this phony investigation. It’s a phony investigation. Hillary Clinton bleached, you know how expensive it is, nobody ever heard of it, I have people very sophisticated in the world of emails and all of this they never even heard of it. The reason they didn’t, it’s an unbelievably expensive process.
October 28, 2016: Trump praises Comey’s FBI for reopening email investigation
Trump said he was “very proud that the FBI was willing to do this actually, really, very proud,” after he told a New Hampshire crowd that the FBI had reopened its investigation into Clinton’s emails.
October 29, 2016: Trump says he respects Comey’s actions
Trump told a Phoenix, Arizona audience that he respected the fact Comey was able to “come back after what he did” — referring to his brief re-opening of the email investigation.
“And I have to tell you, I respect the fact that [FBI] Director Comey was able to come back after what he did. I respect that very much.”
October 30, 2016: Trump says Democrats loved Comey until the FBI reopened the investigation into her emails the week before the election
October 31, 2016: Trump tells a Grand Rapids, Michigan audience that “it took guts” for Comey to reopen the Clinton email investigation
And I have to give the FBI credit. That was so bad what happened originally and it took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had where they are trying to protect her from criminal prosecution. You know that. It took a lot of guts. I really disagreed with him, I was not his fan. But I’ll tell you what, what he did, he brought back his reputation. He brought it back.
He’s got to hang tough. Because there’s a lot of people want him to do the wrong thing. What he did was the right thing.
November 5, 2016: Trump tells a Reno, Nevada audience that Comey and the “great, great special agents of the FBI” would be able to indict Clinton
There’s virtually no doubt that FBI Director Comey and the great, great special agents of the FBI will be able to collect more than enough evidence to garner indictments against Hillary Clinton and her inner circle despite her efforts to disparage them and to discredit them.
November 6, 2016: Trump doubts Comey’s investigation could really be done
Trump, after learning of Comey’s conclusion there was no grounds to keep the email investigation open, questioned whether the FBI could review so many emails in eight days at a Sterling Heights, Michigan rally.
The investigations into her crimes will go on for a long, long time. The rank-and-file special agents at the FBI won’t let her get away with her terrible crimes. Including the deletion of 33,000 emails after receiving a congressional subpoena. They forget about all of this. Right now, she is being protected by a rigged system. It’s a totally rigged system. I’ve been saying it for a long time. You can’t review 650,000 new emails in eight days. You can’t do it, folks. Hillary Clinton is guilty. She knows it. The FBI knows it. The people know it.
January 22, 2017: Trump hugs Comey and pats him on the back at a White House reception
Once Trump took office, and became Comey’s boss, their public relationship was all smiles again.
“Oh there’s James, he’s become more famous than me,” Trump said at a White House reception for law enforcement officers and first responders. Comey walked toward the newly-inaugurated president, they shook hands, leaned close to exchange a few words in a hug, and Trump patted him on the back with a smile. Some outlets took Trump’s enunciation of “James” to be an “air kiss” but appears instead to be the way Trump talks.
FLASHBACK – Jan 22 » Trump: "oh, there James [Comey]…he's become more famous than me" (followed by awkward hug/handshake) pic.twitter.com/MIqguxA5XR
— Steve Kopack (@SteveKopack) May 9, 2017
March 2, 2017: AG Sessions recuses himself from Russia investigation
“I have now decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement, after falsely telling the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing that he “did not have communications with the Russians” during the campaign. The White House said Sessions should not have to recuse himself at all.
Sessions would later recommend to Trump that Comey be fired — even though Comey was leading the Russia investigation — and take part in the process of selecting Comey’s successor.
March 4, 2017: Trump baselessly claims Obama wiretapped him — Comey refuses to support
Trump famously accused former President Obama of wiretapping his phones.
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
This became relevant to Trump’s relationship with Comey when Comey publicly refuted the claims before congress two weeks later, telling the House Intelligence Committee on March 20: “With respect to the president’s tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets. And we have looked carefully inside the FBI.”
March 20, 2017: Turning point — Comey confirms Russia investigation before Congress
At the same House Intelligence Committee hearing at which the wiretapping claims arose, Comey also told the committee that the FBI was investigating links and collaboration between the Trump campaign and Russian government.
I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.
The hearing happened under the bizarre context of a presidential tweetstorm. Earlier that morning, Trump tried to cast the blame on Democrats, leakers, and “FAKE NEWS”:
James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia. This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 20, 2017
The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 20, 2017
The real story that Congress, the FBI and all others should be looking into is the leaking of Classified information. Must find leaker now!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 20, 2017
Comey even fact-checked in real time Trump’s misleading claim that Comey had just told Congress that Russia did not influence the electoral process. “It’s hard for me to react to that,” Comey said in response to the tweet. “We’ve offered no opinion, have no view, have no information on potential impact, because it’s never something that we looked at.”
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer later told reporters: “There is no reason to believe there is any type of investigation with respect to the Department of Justice.” He said “Director Comey confirmed that the FBI in investigating Russia’s role in interfering in the election,” nothing had changed. “Senior Obama intelligence officials have gone on record to confirm that there is no evidence of a Trump-Russia collusion,” Spicer said.
Trump has repeatedly insisted that neither he nor his campaign have had contact with Russia, even though Trump himself met with the Russian ambassador on April 27, 2016, as well as four other members of the Trump campaign: Jeff Sessions, Michael Flynn, Carter Page, and J.D. Gordon.
March 24, 2017: Comey appears at the White House in a private meeting
White House officials said Comey was there for an hour-long “routine interagency meeting” that was not on the president’s public schedule.
— FOX Business (@FoxBusiness) March 24, 2017
April 12, 2017: Trump says Comey was “very, very good” to Hillary Clinton, expresses confidence in him, but says “we’ll see what happens”
Trump told Fox Business News’ Maria Bartiromo that he had confidence in Comey but said “we’ll see what happens” and “it’s going to be interesting” when it came to Comey’s future.
BARTIROMO: …was it a mistake not to ask Jim Comey to step down from the FBI at the outset of your presidency? Is it too late now to ask him to step down?
TRUMP: No, it’s not too late, but, you know, I have confidence in him. We’ll see what happens. You know, it’s going to be interesting. But, you know, we have to just — look, I have so many people that want to come into this administration. They’re so excited about this administration and what’s happening — bankers, law enforcement — everybody wants to come into this administration. Don’t forget, when Jim Comey came out, he saved Hillary Clinton. People don’t realize that. He saved her life, because — I call it Comey won. And I joke about it a little bit. When he was reading those charges, she was guilty on every charge. And then he said, she was essentially OK. But he — she wasn’t OK, because she was guilty on every charge. And then you had two and then you had three. But Hillary Clinton won — or Comey won. She was guilty on every charge.
Bartiromo and Trump then talked over each other but she asked why Comey was still on the job if that was the case. Trump replied, “Well, because I want to give everybody a good, fair chance. Director Comey was very, very good to Hillary Clinton, that I can tell you. If he weren’t, she would be, right now, going to trial.”
May 2, 2017: Trump shifts his tone on Comey and Clinton
Trump says Comey “was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton” and argues the “phony Trump/Russia story was an excuse used by the Democrats as justification for losing the election.”
FBI Director Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds! The phony…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2017
…Trump/Russia story was an excuse used by the Democrats as justification for losing the election. Perhaps Trump just ran a great campaign?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2017
First week of May 2017: Comey reportedly requests support for Russia investigation
According to the New York Times, Comey had requested funding and resources for the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election in the days prior to his firing.
May 8, 2017: Trump reportedly asks AG Sessions and Deputy AG Rosenstein for written case against Comey
According to the Washington Post and Politico, Trump had decided over the weekend to fire Comey over concerns about his “loyalty and judgment,” a perceived lack of action on leak investigations, and “using the Russia probe to become a martyr.” Trump told White House aides that he wanted to speak to Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who he told “to explain in writing the case against Comey.”
May 8, 2017: Trump repeats claim about Clapper
The same day that Sally Yates — the acting attorney general who Trump fired in January over her refusal to enforce his Muslim ban — testified before Congress about how slow Trump was to act on and fire National Security Advisor Michael Flynn once they found out he could have been compromised by Russia, Trump took to Twitter again.
Director Clapper reiterated what everybody, including the fake media already knows- there is "no evidence" of collusion w/ Russia and Trump.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2017
Clapper, in fact, just said “not to my knowledge” when asked if he was aware of evidence — and at the Monday hearing, he said it was standard protocol for the FBI to not share details of counterintelligence investigations.
May 8, 2017: Trump calls the “Russia-Trump” story “a total hoax” and calls for it to end
May 9, 2017, 5 p.m.: Trump fires Comey
Around 5 p.m., Trump made “a round of calls” to congressional leadership informing them that he was firing Comey. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer shouted a statement to reporters near his office at 5:40 p.m. when he decided an emailed statement was not transmitting quickly enough. Earlier in the afternoon, he sent his longtime security guard to FBI headquarters to hand-deliver the letter stating Comey was “terminated and removed from office, effective immediately.”
— NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) May 9, 2017
Trump’s letter says that Comey informed Trump “on three separate occasions” that Trump was not under investigation — conversations that would be counter to Justice Department policies preventing discussions of current investigations with White House officials.
A White House statement said the search for a new director would begin “immediately.” Comey did not find out about his dismissal until he saw it on TV while speaking to employees at an FBI office in Los Angeles.
The memo sent to Trump from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein outlining his conclusion that Comey had not properly concluded the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email practices was released soon after. Rosenstein finished the memo: “As a result, the FBI is unlikely to regain public and congressional trust until it has a Director who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges never to repeat them. Having refused to admit his errors, the Director cannot be expected to implement the necessary corrective actions.” Sessions included a cover letter recommending Comey be dismissed.
Rosenstein reportedly threatened to resign after the White House narrative emerged that Rosenstein was the driving force behind the decision to fire Comey.
May 9, 8:40 p.m.: White House says “it’s time to move on”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson “it’s time to move on” from the Russia investigations.
“I think the bigger point on that is, my gosh, Tucker, when are they going to let that go? It’s been going on for nearly a year,” she said, according to The Hill. “Frankly, it’s kind of getting absurd. There’s nothing there. We’ve heard that time and time again. We’ve heard that in the testimonies earlier this week. We’ve heard it for the last 11 months. There is no ‘there’ there.”
May 9, 2017 8:45 p.m.: White House denies Trump is under investigation
White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway denied on air that Trump is under investigation.
“Let me repeat that the president has been told by the FBI director that he is not under FBI investigation, that is right in the president’s letter,” Conway told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
She also said Comey’s firing had nothing to do with the Russia inquiry.
“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.”
May 9, 2017: 10:10 p.m.: New report emerges of subpoenas for Michael Flynn
CNN reported that “Federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn seeking business records, as part of the ongoing probe of Russian meddling in last year’s election.”
BREAKING: Federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to Michael Flynn's associates https://t.co/m45WkgFume
— CNN (@CNN) May 10, 2017
May 9, 2017, 10:42 p.m.: Trump takes to Twitter to attack Schumer
Trump criticizes Sen. Chuck Schumer for past comments made about Comey.
Cryin' Chuck Schumer stated recently, "I do not have confidence in him (James Comey) any longer." Then acts so indignant. #draintheswamp
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2017
May 10, 2:44 a.m.: Trump confidante under investigation celebrates on Twitter
Trump confidante Roger Stone, a potential target of inquiry in the Russia investigation, celebrated Comey’s firing, and also said he thought what Comey did “to Hillary was disgraceful” but then criticized Comey’s giving her a “pass” in other so-called scandals.
What Comey did to Hillary was disgraceful. I'm glad Trump fired him over it.@StoneColdTruth
— Roger Stone (@RogerJStoneJr) May 10, 2017
Comey gave Clinton's a pass in the Sandy Berger affair, the Marc Rich scandal and Hillary's illegal email . Good Riddance
— Roger Stone (@RogerJStoneJr) May 10, 2017
May 10, 2017, 7:19 a.m.: Trump says Comey’s replacement will bring back prestige of the FBI
May 10, 2017, 7:27 a.m.: Trump says critics will be thanking him for firing Comey
May 10, 2017, 11:06 a.m.: Mike Pence says the firing was not about the Russia collusion investigations
Pence, asked about the future of the Russia investigation by reporters on Capitol Hill, said “that’s not what this is about.”
“Let me be very clear that the president’s decision to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to remove Director Comey as the head of the FBI was based solely and exclusively on his commitment to the best interest of the American people and to ensuring that the FBI has the trust and confidence of the people of this nation,” Pence said.
— FOX Business (@FoxBusiness) May 10, 2017
Pence also said the FBI needed a “fresh start.”
May 10, 2017, 1:52 p.m.: White House says Comey’s firing has been a months-long process
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House deputy press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday afternoon that Trump had lost confidence in Comey “over the last several months.” She said “I think it’s been an erosion of confidence,” starting back to the day he took office. She said Comey had committed “atrocities” in his handling of the Clinton email investigation and “he wasn’t doing a good job.”
One thing not in this timeline: Trump calling out the Russians for hacking or electoral meddling in elections. On Tuesday, Admiral Michael Rogers, head of Cyber Command and the NSA, told Congress that letting the Russians conduct this kind of cyberwarfare without consequences means such attacks will continue. “In the case of the Russians,” Rogers said, “we need to publicly out this behavior. We need to have a public discourse on this.”
Trump fired Comey later that day.