Did Trump set up Comey? President warns ousted FBI boss there might be ‘tapes’ of their conversations after insisting the top Fed assured him he WASN’T being investigated over Russian links
- Trump’s veiled threat comes as Comey is asked to testify before a Senate panel next week
- President said Thursday that he and Comey spoke three times – including two phone calls and one dinner together
- On all three occasions, he insisted, Comey assured him he wasn’t the subject of any FBI investigations
- Trump fired Comey on Tuesday in a bombshell which left his own aides stunned – and led to them misleading the public about what had prompted decision
- Separate report claimed that he had asked Comey for an ‘oath of loyalty’ when they dined together – which FBI boss declined to offer
Donald Trump lobbed a veiled threat at the former FBI director on Friday, hinting that some of their conversations before his firing may have been recorded. ‘James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!’ the president tweeted.It’s unclear whether Trump was warning that the White House is recording his calls, or if he believes the FBI may have been recording Comey’s. Trump said Thursday during an interview with NBC News that the two men have spoken at least three times since Inauguration Day.
And on those occasions, he insisted, Comey assured him that he was not personally the subject of any federal investigations. ‘He said it once at dinner and then he said it twice during phone calls,’ Trump said. He described a matter-of-fact exchange over dinner in which he asked an unusual question and got an unconventional response. ‘I said, “If it’s possible would you let me know, am I under investigation?” Trump recalled. ‘He said, “You are not under investigation”.’
It is rare for a federal law enforcement official to tell anyone, including the President of the United States, whether they are being investigated. Even if Comey doesn’t speak to reporters about the circumstances behind his dismissal on Tuesday, he may have a high-profile venue to tell his side of the story. The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked him to testify next week. The latest twist from Trump amid reports that he demanded loyalty from James Comey during the private dinner at the White House back in January. The claims from associates of the now fired FBI director. Comey had told associates that he was summoned to the White House for a one-on-one dinner with Trump seven days after the inauguration, the New York Times reports. It was during the dinner that Trump reportedly asked Comey twice to pledge loyalty to him as the new Commander in Chief.
Sources claim Comey declined to do so but said he told the President he would always be honest with him. Trump is said to have pressed Comey on whether that would be ‘honest loyalty’, to which the FBI director said: ‘You will have that.’ Sources close to Comey said he now believes this dinner conversation may have sealed his fate. This version of events is vastly different to the dinner conversation Trump himself described in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt on Thursday.
The version is denied by the White House. But the president also used Twitter on Friday morning to say that ‘it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy’. While it is not clear if they are talking about the same dinner, the pair are believed to have only dined together privately once. Trump indicated that he had dinner with Comey at the former FBI director’s request – and said Comey was angling to keep his job.
‘I had a dinner with him. He wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on. We had a very nice dinner at the White House,’ Trump said.
‘He asked for the dinner?’ Holt followed up. ‘A dinner was arranged, I think he asked for the dinner,’ the president hedged. ‘And he wanted to stay on as the FBI head. ‘And I said I’ll consider and we’ll see what happens. But we had a very nice dinner. And at that time he told me ‘you are not under investigation’,’ Trump said. Trump said he had asked Comey – once over dinner and twice by phone – if the FBI were investigating him as part of its probe into alleged collusion between members of his campaign and the Russian government prior to the election.
The President showed no concern that the request might be viewed as interference in the active FBI probe. Comey has not spoken publicly to confirm or challenge Trump’s account. During that same interview, Trump declared he had planned to fire Comey all along, regardless of whether top Justice Department officials recommended the stunning step. The White House had initially cited a Justice Department memo criticizing Comey’s handling of last year’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails as the impetus for Trump’s decision.
Been here before… White House tape threat sounds like Nixon
President Donald Trump said in a Twitter tirade Friday morning that sacked FBI director James Comey ‘better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.’ Presidential recordings of course have played a part in history before – notoriously so in the case of Richard Nixon.He resigned before he could be impeached after the infamous Nixon White House tapes that were made public before the Senate Watergate Committee.
Nixon ordered the Secret Service to install recording devices in the White House and taped 2,636 hours of phone calls and conversations between 1971 and 1973.
He was paranoid about how he was viewed by members of Congress and the executive branch. The 37th president was also concerned about how he was being portrayed to the media. Most people did not know they were being taped and only a few members of the White House administration knew the sound activated recording devices existed. Nixon’s downfall spiraled because of the tapes which were exposed during the Watergate investigation into the DNC burglary while he was running for re-election.
President Nixon ordered the firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox (pictured) who was investigating the break-in at the DNC headquarters at the Watergate complex
The burglars were trying to bug the DNC headquarters at the Watergate complex.
During the investigation, the ‘smoking-gun’ tape led to Nixon’s resignation. It proved the president ordered a cover-up of the burglary of the DNC.
The recording revealed Nixon ordering the FBI and CIA to abandon its investigation of the break-in.
Before the release of the ‘smoking gun’ tape, Nixon ordered the firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox – who was investigating the Watergate scandal – in the Saturday Night Massacre, which itself has drawn comparisons to the firing of Comey.
Nixon was pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford, but many of his aides served time in federal prison.
Nixon wasn’t the first president to secretly record Oval Office conversations. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt also recorded discussions in the Oval Office with a hidden microphone inside his desk lamp.
He began using the device after he claimed the New York Times published what he claimed to be a fictitious article. FDR used the tapes to keep a record of what was said in the Oval to keep this from happening again.
But Trump acknowledged for the first time on Thursday that the Russia investigation – which he dismissed as a ‘made-up story’ – was also on his mind as he ousted the man overseeing the probe.
The shifting accounts of the decision to fire Comey, whom Trump derided as a ‘showboat’ and ‘grandstander,’ added to a mounting sense of uncertainty and chaos in the West Wing, as aides scrambled to get their stories straight and appease an angry president.
Not even Vice President Mike Pence was spared the embarrassment of having told a version of events that was later discredited by Trump.
Multiple officials, including Pence, said the president was acting at the behest of Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
‘I was going to fire Comey,’ Trump said. ‘Regardless of recommendation I was going to fire Comey.’
The White House’s explanations continued to crumble throughout the day Thursday. On Capitol Hill, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe strongly disputed the White House’s assertion that Comey had been fired in part because he had lost the confidence of the FBI’s rank-and-file.
My decision: Trump said of the firing of the FBI director: ‘Oh, I was going to fire Comey regardless of recommendation.’
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted she had heard from ‘countless’ members of the FBI who welcomed the president’s decision
‘That is not accurate,’ McCabe said. ‘Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day.’
Unfazed, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted she had heard from ‘countless’ members of the FBI who welcomed the president’s decision.
McCabe also pointed out the remarkable nature of Trump’s version of his conversations with Comey. McCabe told a Senate panel it was not ‘standard practice’ to tell an individual whether they are or are not under investigation.
Previous presidents have made a public show of staying out of legal matters, so as not to appear to be injecting politics. Trump’s comments demonstrated his striking deviation from that practice.
The ousted director himself is said to be confident that his own version of events will come out, possibly in an appearance before Congress, according to an associate who has been in touch with him since his firing Tuesday.
Trump and Comey’s relationship was strained early on, in part because of the president’s explosive and unsubstantiated claims that Barack Obama ‘wiretapped’ him.
Hour by hour, how the White House story kept changing
Tuesday, 5:45 PM: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer emails reporters the following statement: Today, President Donald J. Trump informed FBI Director James Comey that he has been terminated and removed from office. President Trump acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Tuesday, 8:40 PM: Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders appear on CNN, Fox Business and Fox News simultaneously to claim that Rosenstein wrote a memo recommending Comey’s firing that Sessions concurred with in a letter than he gave to the president. The president accepted the recommendation and fired Comey immediately.
Spicer to Lou Dobbs: ‘He [Rod Rosenstein] made a determination that the FBI director had lost his confidence, made a recommendation to the attorney general, the attorney general concurred with that and forwarded that recommendation today on to the President who agreed with their conclusions and terminated…the FBI director’s position at the FBI.’
Huckabee Sanders to Tucker Carlson: ‘The president was provided a pretty clear and direct and very strong recommendation by the deputy attorney general…That deputy made the recommendation, the president made a swift and decisive action and let Director Comey go.’
Conway to Anderson Cooper: ‘He took the recommendation of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, to whom the FBI director reports to.’
Tuesday, 8:50 PM: Spicer is cornered by reporters outside the White House after his interview with Fox Business.
Spicer on the Rosenstein recommendation: ‘It was all him.’
On Wednesday morning Huckabee Sanders was on MSNBC and Conway was on CNN again to say that Rosenstein likely wrote the report of his own volition. Spicer disappears off to ‘Navy Reserve duty.’
Huckabee Sanders on Morning Joe: ‘I’m not aware that it [the Rosenstein memo] was requested. All I know is that the director reports to him. And I would imagine that that is part of the process of him coming on board and taking over that position.’
Conway on New Day: ‘One presumes that he wrote the report on his own. He’s fully capable of writing a report isn’t he, Chris?’
Wednesday, 1:50 PM: Huckabee Sanders tells reporters at the White House’s daily briefing that Trump actually met with Sessions and Rosenstein on Monday at the White House. They told him then that Comey should go, a sentiment they expressed in writing on Tuesday at the president’s behest.
Huckabee Sanders: ‘He’d lost confidence in Director Comey, and, frankly, he’d been considering letting Director Comey go since the day he was elected. But he did have a conversation with the Deputy Attorney General on Monday, where they had come to him to express their concerns. The President asked they put those concerns and their recommendation in writing, which is the letter that you guys have received.’
Wednesday on Capitol Hill Vice President Mike Pence gives reporters the line about Rosenstein coming on the job and making an assessment that Comey has to go.
Pence to reporters: ‘The deputy attorney general was confirmed just a few short weeks ago by the United States Senate when he brought the recommendation to the president that the director of the FBI should be removed.’
Thursday morning Conway and Huckabee Sanders went on a full scale assault on morning TV, appearing on CBS, ABC and Fox News to reiterate the timeline the White House laid out the afternoon before.
Huckabee Sanders clarified on Good Morning America: ‘The words that were written weren’t at the direction, necessarily, of the president. Those were their own thoughts and ideas.’
She claimed on CBS This Morning: ‘Let’s not forget there was a near uprising after Comey from members of the FBI. This isn’t just about the president losing confidence. The rank-and-file members within the FBI had lost confidence in the director.’
Conway told Fox & Friends: ‘We feel very comfortable in this White House referring people to the fact that the president was in his full authority to take the advice of the deputy attorney general.’
Later on Thursday the president sat down with NBC’s Lester Holt. Trump told Holt that the decision to fire Comey originated with him.
‘Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation. He made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.’
Thursday, 1:45 PM: Huckabee Sanders admits to reporters at the White House daily press briefing that she did not ask the president prior to that afternoon whether he had already made the decision to fire Comey.
‘I went off of the information that I had when I answered your question. I’ve since had the conversation with him, right before I walked on today, and he laid it out very clearly. He had already made that decision. He had been thinking about it for months, which I did say yesterday and have said many times since. And Wednesday I think was the final straw that pushed him. And the recommendation that he got from the Deputy Attorney General just further solidified his decision and, again, I think reaffirmed that he made the right one.’