President Trump says it was his decision, and his alone, to get rid of the top man at the FBI.
Forty-eight hours after James Comey’s firing, the president on Thursday ripped the former FBI director in an exclusive interview with NBC new.
“He’s a showboat, he’s a grandstander,” Trump said. “The FBI has been in turmoil—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.”
The president also contradicted the narrative of his own White House team on the reason for Comey’s firing. Comey was terminated after Trump received a written recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Comey’s direct superior. That memo cited Comey’s mishandling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s secret email server as the primary cause for a loss of confidence.
Trump’s staff and the Vice President insisted on Tuesday and Wednesday that Rosenstein recommendation was to attribute for Comey’s removal, but the president made it clear Thursday that had long decided to fire Comey.
“I was going to fire him regardless of recommendation,” Trump told NBC. “[Rosenstein] made a recommendation, he is highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy, the Democrats like him, the Republicans like him. He made a recommendation—but regardless of recommendation I was going to fire him.”
The president harsh personal assessment of James Comey drew a sharp response from the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“Frankly, I am offended by the president’s comments,” Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) told reporters Tuesday night. “This is a continuing pattern of disrespecting the men and women who served in our intelligence community.”
President Trump has been reportedly unhappy with many things regarding Comey, among them that the Russia investigation is still making headlines, but not enough attention was being paid to the leaks of classified information. And that Comey never confirmed in public what the president says he told him in private—that he was not a target of the Russia investigation.
Trump asked Comey if he was under investigation and Comey assured the president he was not.
“I had a dinner with him, he wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on,” Trump said. “…And I said, ‘I’ll consider we’ll see what happens’…And at that time he told me, ‘You’re not under investigation,’ which I knew anyway.”
The president’s comments sparked debate on whether it was appropriate for him to even ask the question. The White House insists that it was. But on the substance the president got back up today from the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley, who heard the same thing in a meeting with Comey.
“On Tuesday the president’s letter said that Director Comey told him he was not under investigation. Senator Feinstein and I heard nothing contradicted the president’s statement,” Grassley explained.
While the White House on Wednesday dismissed the FBI’s Russia investigation as “probably one of the smallest things they’ve got going,” the acting director of the FBI Andrew McCabe directly contradicted that assertion, calling the Russian probe a “highly significant investigation.”
McCabe also denied that Trump’s claim about the FBI being in turmoil.
Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe: "I don't believe there is a crisis of confidence in the leadership of the FBI." pic.twitter.com/3GgHHtpAFi
— Zach Schurmann (@zachschurmann) May 11, 2017
Testifying alongside the intelligence community leadership, at the Senate’s annual National Security Threats Hearing, the FBI’s acting director Andrew McCabe was pressed on morale at the bureau. But his answers seem to contradict the message the White House have been putting out over the last few days.
“I have heard from a large number of individuals that work at the FBI that said that they are very happy with the President’s decision,” White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the press Thursday.
In a rare admission, McCabe said morale was down but only after Comey recommended against criminal charges for Hillary Clinton and her team for mishandling classified information.
“There were folks within our agency who were frustrated with the outcome of the Hillary Clinton case and some of those folks were very vocal about those concerns,” McCabe said.
Critics say McCabe is partisan because his wife took $700,000 for a 2015 state senate run from Democrats, including a longtime Clinton aid Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.