WASHINGTON: Since President Donald Trump’s shock dismissal of FBI director James Comey, the official account of how and why he was sacked has shifted, with Trump appearing on Thursday to contradict the initial version of events.
Here is a timeline of explanations provided by the White House and the president himself for the termination of Comey, who was overseeing a probe into whether Trump aides colluded with Moscow to sway last year’s presidential election.
“Dear Director Comey”: Trump writes the FBI chief a dismissal letter, attaching a letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions recommending Comey be fired, and one from his deputy Rod Rosenstein that listed missteps in Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email scandal during last year’s election.
“I have accepted their recommendation and you are hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately,” Trump writes.
Shortly afterward, White House spokesman Sean Spicer tells reporters that Rosenstein, the number two at the Justice Department, decided of his own accord to send his memo to the president.
Vice President Mike Pence tells US media that “President Trump made the right decision at the right time to accept the recommendation of (Sessions and Rosenstein) to support the termination of the director of the FBI.”
At the White House, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders says the two Justice Department officials met with the president Monday. During that meeting, she says, the pair made verbal recommendations to Trump, who asked them to put their views into writing.
Asked whether it was the White House’s assertion that Rosenstein, newly confirmed to his post, decided on his own to review Comey’s performance, Sanders replies: “Absolutely.”
But she also says that Trump had been considering sacking Comey since taking office, having lost trust in the director “over the last several months.”
“I think it’s been an erosion of confidence,” she adds.
Trump shifts the narrative in an interview with NBC News.
“I was going to fire him regardless of recommendations,” Trump declares. “He’s a showboat, he’s a grandstander.”
Shortly afterwards, spokeswoman Sanders says Comey’s appearance at a congressional hearing last Wednesday — when the FBI director again made reference to the Clinton email case — had been “the final straw.”
“The recommendation that he got from the deputy attorney general just further solidified his decision,” Sanders says. “And again, I think reaffirmed that he made the right one.”
Asked about the possible impact of Comey’s removal on the FBI’s Russia investigation, Sanders says the White House wants the probe to “come to its conclusion with integrity.”
“And we think that we’ve actually, by removing director Comey, taken steps to make that happen.”