President Trump made a brazen attempt on Thursday morning to mislead the public about his previous statements regarding why he fired then-FBI Director James Comey in May 2017 amid an active FBI investigation of his campaign.
Trump asserted on Twitter that Comey’s firing had nothing to do with that investigation.
“Not that it matters but I never fired James Comey because of Russia!” Trump tweeted. “The Corrupt Mainstream Media loves to keep pushing that narrative, but they know it is not true!”
Not that it matters but I never fired James Comey because of Russia! The Corrupt Mainstream Media loves to keep pushing that narrative, but they know it is not true!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2018
Trump is trying to gaslight the American public. In fact, Trump himself has acknowledged that the investigation played a role in his decision.
At the time of Comey’s firing, the White House claimed that Comey was canned because he was unfair to Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton. That explanation was transparently absurd, as throughout his campaign Trump railed against the FBI for not more aggressively going after Clinton.
But in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt that took place just days after Comey’s firing, Trump admitted that his annoyance with the investigation into his campaign for possible collusion with Russia motivated his decision to terminate the FBI director.
“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,’” Trump said during the interview, which aired on May 11, 2017.
Pres. Trump on firing Comey: "I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story." https://t.co/hxqM1LI6BE
— NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (@NBCNightlyNews) May 11, 2017
A key component of special counsel Robert Mueller’s current investigation is trying to determine whether Trump obstructed justice when he fired Comey. As ThinkProgress wrote at the time of Comey’s firing, Trump’s acknowledgment to Holt that the investigation into his campaign motivated his decision seemed to amount to an obstruction of justice confession.
The White House has since taken steps to prevent Trump from again speaking so frankly to a journalist. His interview with Holt remains the most recent one he’s done with a TV journalist who isn’t Piers Morgan or doesn’t work for Fox News.
Since then, the president has tried to convince the American people to forget about his admission during the Holt interview.
Last month, for example, Trump tweeted that Comey “was not fired because of the phony Russia investigation where, by the way, there was NO COLLUSION (except by the Dems)!”
Slippery James Comey, the worst FBI Director in history, was not fired because of the phony Russia investigation where, by the way, there was NO COLLUSION (except by the Dems)!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2018
Though Trump did not cite a reason for Comey’s firing in that tweet, the implication is that Comey’s poor character justified his termination. Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, attempted to further that narrative during an interview with Sean Hannity on May 2, at one point calling Comey “a very perverted man.”
Trump has not bothered to try and explain the disconnect between what he said last May and what he and Giuliani are saying now.
During a CNN interview on Thursday, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) tried and failed to explain Trump’s shifting rationale for Comey’s firing.
Asked about Trump’s Thursday morning tweet, Lee told host John Berman that “my understanding at the time [Trump] did it was that he was concerned about the way that Mr. Comey had handled the Hillary Clinton investigation,” falling back on the White House’s initial talking point. Berman interjected — and played for Lee the clip of Trump telling Holt he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation.
“President Trump told us it was about Russia,” Berman said.
“Well, it was also about the Hillary investigation,” Lee replied, lamely.
CNN HOST: Senator, any concerns Trump seems to be lying about why he fired Comey?@SenMikeLee: No. He fired him because of Hillary probe
CNN: Wait a sec. Let's watch video of Trump admitting it was about Russia
[plays Holt clip]
LEE: Eh, it was about Hillary pic.twitter.com/8LzIsbg3bF
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 31, 2018
Earlier this month, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked by a reporter to reconcile the multiple rationales that team Trump has advanced about why, exactly, Comey was fired. She responded with the verbal equivalent of the shrug emoji.
“There were a number of reasons that James Comey was fired. The president has named several of them,” Sanders said. “But the bottom line is, the president doesn’t have to justify his decision. The president has the authority to fire and hire, and I think every single day we’ve seen that he made the right decision in firing James Comey.”
Despite what Sanders would have you believe, the White House’s changing story could cause problems for Trump. What actually motivated him to fire Comey is a key factor in Mueller’s obstruction of justice investigation, and the fact he’s telling a shifting story does not suggest innocence.