President Donald Trump on Thursday undercut his own administration’s explanation for why he fired FBI Director James Comey.
The White House previously said Trump acted on a letter from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, detailing Comey’s missteps in handling the investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding classified information.
“What I did is, I was going to fire Comey. My decision.”
But Trump told NBC “Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt that he already had his mind made up before he met with Rosenstein.
“What I did is, I was going to fire Comey. My decision,” he said in a clip released by NBC. “I was going to fire Comey. There’s no good time to do it, by the way.”
Trump called Rosenstein “highly respected” on both sides of the aisle. But he said Rosenstein’s recommendation was not determinative.
“I was going to fire him regardless of recommendation,” he said.
White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who along with Vice President Mike Pence had been citing the Rosenstein letter, told reporters at the daily press briefing that both had been wrong.
"I think it's pretty simple," Sanders said in response to a question by ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl. "I hadn't had a chance to have the conversation directly with the president to say. I'd had several conversations with him, but I didn't ask that question directly, 'Had you already made that decision?' I went off the information that I had when I answered your question."
Sanders said that when she later talked to Trump about that, he "laid it out very clearly."
Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday that Comey maintained the confidence of rank-and-file agents. Sanders disputed that, telling reporters that she personally has heard from "countless members of the FBI" who are grateful that he is gone.
In the interview with Holt, Trump said Comey assured him during a dinner and on two phone conversations that he, personally, was not a target of the investigation into Russian meddling. But he had harsh words for the former director.
"He's a showboat. He's a grandstander. The FBI has been in turmoil," he said. "You know that. I know that. Everybody knows that. You take a look at the FBI a year ago. It was in virtual turmoil. Less than a year ago. It hasn't recovered from that."
That drew a harsh rebuke from Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee.
"I thought he made some mistakes last fall. But I never called for his resignation," he told reporters after the committee's hearing. "I thought he was a straight shooter. And frankly, I'm offended at the president's comments today. This is a continuing pattern of disrespect for the men and women who serve in our intelligence community."
The panel's chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), avoided criticism of Trump during the joint news conference. But he vouched for Comey.
"I found him to be one of the most ethical, upright, straightforward individuals I've had the opportunity to work with," he said. "He provided our committee more access to information than any [other] director of the FBI."
Burr said some agency employees undoubtedly disagreed with Comey's handling of the Clinton investigation. But he made clear he believes it is a minority.
"The lion's share of FBI employees respect the former director," he said. "And it showed the professionalism that he brought to the role that he was in, and I'm sure that he will some point have opportunity to share, if he wants to, his side of the story."
Last Modified: May 11, 2017, 4:41 pm