During a Thursday interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, President Trump claimed the decision to fire FBI Director James Comey amid an ongoing investigation into his campaign’s ties with Russia was ultimately his and his alone.
Trump also says he decided to fire Comey before his Monday meeting with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — a revelation that indicates the rationale he provided to Comey in a letter announcing his termination was a pretext.
“I was going to fire Comey — my decision,” Trump told Holt.
Holt pushed back, noting that in the letter to Comey, Trump wrote that he was acting on a recommendation from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rosenstein.
“I was going to fire regardless of recommendation,” Trump said. “He made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation I was going to fire Comey.”
— NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) May 11, 2017
Not only does the story Trump told Holt conflict with this letter, but it also conflicts with what Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Wednesday during the White House news conference.
At one point during that presser, a reporter asked Huckabee Sanders, “Isn’t it true that the President had already decided to fire James Comey, and he asked the Justice Department to put together the rationale for that firing?”
“No,” Huckabee Sanders replied. “I did speak directly to the president and heard directly from him that he, again, had been considering letting Director Comey go pretty much since the day he took office, but that there was no request by him to have a review at the Department of Justice.”
The case for firing Comey laid out by Rosenstein centered largely on Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email case. But Trump was largely enthusiastic about Comey’s handling of the Clinton case on the campaign trail, as it helped him win the election.
At another point in the NBC interview, Holt asked Trump about an extraordinary paragraph in his letter to Comey — one that says, “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.”
Trump said one of occasions happened during a phone call he placed to Comey.
“And did you ask him, ‘Am I under investigation?’” Holt asked.
“I actually asked him, yes,” Trump said. “I said, ‘If it’s possible, will you let me know, am I under investigation?’ He said, ‘You are not under investigation.’”
Trump also indicates that Comey wanted to keep his job.
“He wanted to stay on,” Trump said. “He wanted to stay on as the FBI head, and I said, ‘I’ll consider — we’ll see what happens.’”
The New York Times reported that Comey was fired shortly after asking the Justice Department “for a significant increase in money and personnel for the bureau’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election.”