Updated June 8
The Fact Checker earlier produced a timeline on the firing of Michael Flynn as President Trump’s national security adviser. Now that story has merged with Trump’s firing of FBI Director James B. Comey. Below is a new timeline, incorporating some elements of the Flynn timeline. Key aspects of the Trump and Comey interactions remain in dispute, so we will keep updating this as new information emerges.
Dec. 29, 2016
The Obama administration announces measures against Russia in retaliation for what U.S. officials characterized as interference in the 2016 election, ordering the expulsion of Russian “intelligence operatives” and slapping new sanctions on state agencies and individuals suspected in the hacks of U.S. computer systems.
Flynn, incoming national security adviser for Trump, speaks by phone with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, and discusses the sanctions and suggests the possibility of sanctions relief once Trump is president. The call is monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies.
Jan. 6, 2017
Comey briefs Trump about the intelligence community assessment concerning Russia’s efforts to intefere with the presidential election. Comey, in written congressional testimony on June 8, says he was tasked to pull Trump aside and brief him on the contents of an unverified dossier that was “personally sensitive” to the president-elect. “Based on President-elect Trump’s reaction to the briefing and without him directly asking the question,” Comey tells Trump he is not the subject of an open counter-intelligence investigation. After the meeting, Comey immediately wrote a memo about the conversation as sson as he returned to his car. “I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document,” he told lawmakers.
Jan. 20, 2017
Trump takes the oath of office and becomes president.
Trump singles out Comey at a White House event and hugs him: “Oh, and there’s Jim. He’s become more famous than me.”
Trump was presumably referring to Comey’s announcement, days before the election, that the FBI might have found new information in the Hillary Clinton email case. Clinton — and many other Democrats — say Comey’s announcement tipped a close election toward Trump.
Comey’s version (from Benjamin Wittes, “What James Comey Told Me About Donald Trump,” May 18): “He tried hard to blend into the background and avoid any one-on-one interaction. He was wearing a blue blazer and noticed that the drapes were blue. So he stood in the back, right in front of the drapes, hoping Trump wouldn’t notice him camouflaged against the wall. … Comey took the long walk across the room determined, he told me, that there was not going to be a hug. Bad enough that he was there; bad enough that there would be a handshake; he emphatically did not want any show of warmth. Again, look at the video, and you’ll see Comey preemptively reaching out to shake hands. Trump grabs his hand and attempts an embrace. The embrace, however, is entirely one sided. Comey was disgusted. He regarded the episode as a physical attempt to show closeness and warmth in a fashion calculated to compromise him before Democrats who already mistrusted him.”
Flynn is interviewed by the FBI about his conversations with Kislyak.
Acting attorney general Sally Yates, accompanied by an aide, goes to the White House and tells White House Counsel Donald McGahn that, contrary to Flynn’s claims to White House officials, sanctions had been discussed in the calls, based on the monitoring of the conversations by intelligence agencies. She also warns that Flynn is vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow.
McGahn asks Yates to come to the White House again to discuss the matter further. Yates testified that he did not indicate whether he had discussed the Flynn situation with anyone else at the White House, but White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters “the president was immediately informed of the situation.” McGahn asked why the Justice Department would be concerned whether one White House official lied to another, she said. “Logic would tell you that you don’t want the national security adviser to be in a position where the Russians have leverage over him,” she said.
McGahn also asks to see the underlying evidence. Yates says she would work with the FBI to assemble the material, and McGahn’s review is scheduled for Jan. 30.
Jan. 27 — Trump and Comey
That night, Trump and Comey have dinner at the White House. But they disagree over who asked for the meeting.
Trump’s version (from interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, May 11): “He wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on. We had a very nice dinner at the White House. … That dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner.”
Comey’s version (from interview of James R. Clapper Jr., former director of national intelligence, on CNN, May 14): “I was at the Hoover Building on the 27th of January for another event, and spoke briefly with Director Comey. He mentioned to me the invitation he had from the president for dinner, and that he was, my characterization, uneasy with it, both from a standpoint of the optic of compromising his independence and the independence of the FBI.”
At the dinner, Trump reportedly asks Comey for his loyalty, according to news reports.
Comey’s version (from written congressional testimony, June 8): “The President began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI Director, which I found strange ….My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch….I added that I was not on anybody’s side politically and could not be counted on in the traditional political sense, a stance I said was in his best interest as the President. A few moments later, the President said, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.’ I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence…..Near the end of our dinner, the President returned to the subject of my job….He then said, ‘I need loyalty.’ I replied, ‘You will always get honesty from me.’ He paused and then said, ‘That’s what I want, honest loyalty.’ I paused, and then said, ‘You will get that from me.’”
Comey also indicated that he again told Trump he was not under investigation. “He said he was considering ordering me to investigate the alleged incident to prove it didn’t happen,” Comey recounted in his written testimony. “I replied that he should give that careful thought because it might create a narrative that we were investigating him personally, which we weren’t, and because it was very difficult to prove a negative.”
Trump’s version (from interview on Fox News with Jeanine Pirro, May 12): “I didn’t, but I don’t think it would be a bad question to ask. I think loyalty to the country, loyalty to the United States is important. You know, I mean it depends on how you define loyalty. Number one. Number two, I don’t know how that got there, because I didn’t ask that question.”
Trump’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, said after Comey’s testimony: “The president also never told Mr. Comey, quote, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,’ closed quote. He never said it in for and he never said it in substance.”
Trump fires Yates, allegedly over an unrelated matter — her conclusion that Trump’s executive order barring travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries was “unlawful.” The executive order is later blocked by the courts.
The Washington Post reports that the White House had known for weeks that Flynn had misled people about the nature of the Kislyak calls. Flynn is forced to resign within hours after the article is posted. Spicer on Feb. 14 said Flynn was let go because he no longer had the trust of the president and vice president.
Feb. 14 — Trump and Comey
In an Oval Office meeting, Trump asks Comey to end the investigation of Flynn, according to Comey.
Comey’s version (from written congressional testimony, June 8): “On February 14, I went to the Oval Office for a scheduled counterterrorism briefing of the President,” Comey said in his congressional testimony. “The President signaled the end of the briefing by thanking the group and telling them all that he wanted to speak to me alone….When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the President began by saying, ‘I want to talk about Mike Flynn.’ … The President began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the Vice President. He added that he had other concerns about Flynn, which he did not then specify… ‘He is a good guy and has been through a lot.’ He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, ‘I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.’ I replied only that ‘he is a good guy.’ …I did not say I would ‘let this go.’”
Under questioning by lawmakers, Comey said that given the setting and the fact that Trump asked to see him alone, he took the president’s words as a directive. “It rings in my ear as kind of, ‘Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” Comey said, regarding Henry II’s alleged words that led to the murder of Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury, in 1170. He said that at time Flynn was in “legal jeopardy.”
Kasowitz said after Comey’s testimony: “The president never in form or substance directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone, including the president never suggested that Mr. Comey, quote, ‘Let Flynn go,’ close quote.” Trump also denied he asked Comey to ease up on the investigation.
In a tweet, Trump claims without evidence that President Barack Obama had tapped his phones during the election campaign. A day later, news reports say Comey asked the Justice Department to publicly reject Trump’s claim. But no action is taken.
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
In congressional testimony, Comey said he has been cleared by the Justice Department to say there is “no information” to support Trump’s claim about wiretaps. He also told Congress the FBI was investigating “the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
After Comey’s testimony, The Washington Post reported, Trump separately asked two of the nation’s top intelligence officials — Daniel Coats, director of national intelligence, and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, director of the National Security Agency — to help him push back against the FBI investigation. He urged them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election, but both officials refused, believing the request was inappropriate.
Comey says Trump called him. This is a summary of his description of the call, from his written congressional testimony on June 8:
“On the morning of March 30, the President called me at the FBI. He described the Russia investigation as ‘a cloud’ that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country. He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to ‘lift the cloud.’… I explained that we had briefed the leadership of Congress on exactly which individuals we were investigating and that we had told those Congressional leaders that we were not personally investigating President Trump. I reminded him I had previously told him that. He repeatedly told me, ‘We need to get that fact out.’… The President went on to say that if there were some ‘satellite’ associates of his who did something wrong, it would be good to find that out, but that he hadn’t done anything wrong.”
Comey says his last conversation with Trump took place in a phone call. From his June 8 written testimony:
“On the morning of April 11, the President called me and asked what I had done about his request that I ‘get out’ that he is not personally under investigation. I replied that I had passed his request to the Acting Deputy Attorney General, but I had not heard back. He replied that ‘the cloud’ was getting in the way of his ability to do his job…. I said the White House Counsel should contact the leadership of DOJ to make the request, which was the traditional channel. He said he would do that and added, ‘Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.’ I did not reply or ask him what he meant by ‘that thing.’ I said only that the way to handle it was to have the White House Counsel call the Acting Deputy Attorney General. He said that was what he would do and the call ended.”
Trump knocks Comey on Twitter.
FBI Director Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds! The phony…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2017
Comey tells Congress: “It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election.” He offers a defense of his actions in the Hillary Clinton case and indicates the Russian investigation is continuing.
Trump tells Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein that he wants to fire Comey. Rosenstein crafts a memo that faults Comey for his handling of the Clinton case, although he has refused to say whether anyone asked him to write the memo. The White House originally cited the memo as justification for the firing but then later backed off that explanation after Rosenstein complained.
Comey is fired. In his note to Comey, Trump says, “I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.” (Trump appears to be referring to the conversations recounted by Comey on Jan. 6, Jan. 27 and March 30.)
Trump meets with Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak. “I just fired the head of the F.B.I.,” Trump says, according to a White House summary of the conversation. “He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Trump adds: “I’m not under investigation.”
Rosenstein appoints a special counsel, former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III, to oversee the Russia probe and investigate any related matters, such as obstruction of justice and perjury.
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