On Thursday evening, the New York Times published a news story detailing the tension within the White House as President Trump considered firing James B. Comey as FBI director. When Trump did so in May, it triggered precisely what the president had hoped to avoid: a more focused investigation of the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russian actors during the 2016 presidential election.
In light of that new report, we’ve built out a timeline of Trump’s interactions with Comey and other significant individuals related to the relationship between the two. Extending back four years, it helps contextualize how Donald Trump as a candidate and then as president viewed Comey and the FBI’s investigations into Hillary Clinton and the Trump campaign.
Sep. 4, 2013
Comey assumes his position as director of the FBI, replacing outgoing director Robert S. Mueller III.
March 2, 2015
The New York Times reports that Hillary Clinton exclusively used a private email server as secretary of state.
Donald Trump announces his candidacy for the presidency.
The FBI opens an investigation into Clinton’s handling of classified material, code-named “Midyear.” It centers on the information that was shared using her private email server.
July 5, 2016
Comey speaks publicly about the investigation, saying that he and the FBI would not recommend charges against Clinton but that she was “extremely careless” in her handling of classified information.
Trump tweets shortly afterward.
Comey and the FBI become frequent punching bags for Trump on the campaign trail.
At some point this month, the FBI opens a counterintelligence investigation into Russian meddling in the ongoing presidential election. It includes consideration of whether officials from within the Trump campaign team have been working with Russian actors to influence the outcome.
The investigation was apparently triggered when the FBI was tipped off by an Australian official that Trump foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos had mentioned that the Russians were in possession of emails incriminating the Clinton campaign a few months prior. Emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee were released beginning in June.
The FBI begins investigating former New York congressman Anthony Weiner’s sexually explicit communications with an underage girl. As part of that investigation, they obtain a laptop used by Weiner and his wife, Huma Abedin, a senior aide to Clinton.
Trump tweets about Comey.
Comey sends a letter to Congress informing them that the FBI had discovered “emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” into Clinton’s server. Those emails, it turns out, had been found on the Abedin-Weiner laptop.
Trump tweeted about the development.
In a speech in Iowa that night, he addressed the development.
“What happened today, starting with the FBI — maybe the system will become a little less rigged,” he said to applause. “Beautiful.”
At a rally in Phoenix, Trump praises Comey.
“I have to tell you, I respect the fact that Director Comey was able to come back after what he did,” he said. “I respect that very much. And when the other side is complaining and complaining and complaining, there was no — there was reason for it, because all of the crimes that were committed, something should have happened then, not now.”
The FBI completes its review of the newly discovered emails and announces that its conclusions about pressing charges against Clinton haven’t changed. In a speech, Trump resumes his disparagement of the “rigged system.”
Trump wins the presidential election.
Michael Flynn, tapped by Trump to serve as his national security adviser, calls Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to discuss how Russia plans to respond to sanctions being imposed by the Obama administration.
Jan. 6, 2017
Comey and other officials travel to Trump Tower to brief President-elect Trump on a report assessing the role of Russia in the 2016 election. This is the first time Comey and Trump meet. Comey informs Trump that he isn’t personally under investigation as part of the bureau’s counterintelligence case.
Trump is inaugurated as president.
Trump hosts a ceremony at the White House to honor law enforcement officials. Comey later told a confidant that he didn’t want to attend out of concern that Trump would try to form a closer relationship with him.
At the event, Comey stands in front of dark blue curtains in the futile hope that he won’t be noticed. Trump spots him, and calls him over, saying, “He’s become more famous than me.”
Flynn is interviewed by the FBI. During that interview, he falsely denies having spoken to Kislyak about sanctions.
Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, aware of the FBI interview, informs White House counsel Donald McGahn that Flynn misrepresented his conversation with Kislyak to Vice President Pence, who had repeated that untrue information in a media interview.
McGahn asks Yates to return to the White House to answer more questions about Flynn.
Trump calls Comey at noon to see if he could come to the White House for dinner. Comey expects it to be a group meal but soon learns that it’s one-on-one.
Trump begins by asking Comey if he wanted to stay on as FBI director, a question he’d asked before. Comey assures Trump that he does. Trump replies, according to Comey, that “he would understand if I wanted to walk away.”
It’s during this meeting that Trump allegedly asks Comey to pledge that he’d be loyal to the president. Instead, Comey offers his honesty and again tells Trump that the president isn’t personally under investigation.
Comey and several other senior officials meet in the Oval Office to discuss anti-terrorism efforts. At the end of the meeting, Trump asks Comey to stay behind. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is among those who leaves to allow Trump to address Comey in private.
According to Comey, Trump asks him to “see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Comey agrees only that Flynn is a good guy.
Comey later indicates that he believed Trump to be asking him to drop the investigation into Flynn, a request he found “very concerning.”
Comey asks Sessions to ensure that he will not be left alone with Trump again, out of concern that the president would try to unduly influence his investigative efforts.
Then-White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus speaks with FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, asking him what the agency can do about a New York Times report alleging multiple contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian actors. McCabe and Comey tell Priebus that they can’t publicly comment on the report, even to deny its accuracy.
Citing the advice of Justice Department attorneys, Sessions announces that he will recuse himself from any decisions related to the Russia investigation. The announcement followed revelations that Sessions had failed to tell senators about meetings with the Russian ambassador during his confirmation hearings but, according to the New York Times, Sessions had planned to recuse himself anyway, despite heavy lobbying from McGahn.
Comey testifies in front of the House Intelligence Committee. There, he confirms publicly the existence of the counterintelligence investigation into Russian meddling.
It’s after this hearing that Trump began discussing firing Comey with aides, according to the Times. The paper reports that one attorney in the White House Counsel’s Office, Uttam Dhillon, informed Trump that he needed cause to fire Comey, which isn’t true, but which Dhillon left uncorrected.
After a briefing wraps up at the White House, Trump asks Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and CIA director Mike Pompeo to remain behind. Trump complained about the FBI investigation and reportedly asked Coats and Pompeo to intervene with Comey. They declined to do so.
Trump calls Comey. During that call, Comey says that Trump asked him what could be done to “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation and asks Comey to announce publicly that the president himself was not under investigation.
Trump again calls Comey and asks what has been done to make it clear that the president isn’t under investigation. Comey suggests that Trump raise the issue with Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente (since Sessions had recused himself).
Comey and Trump don’t speak again.
Rod J. Rosenstein is confirmed by the Senate as deputy attorney general. He becomes the ranking official in charge of the Russia investigation.
Comey testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
This testimony includes comments from Comey about his handling of the Clinton email investigation and a refusal by the FBI director to answer whether evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian actors exists. His testimony apparently triggers fury by Trump and the president’s final decision to fire the FBI director.
According to the Times, a Hill staffer is approached by an aide to Sessions and asked if he or she has any “derogatory information” about Comey.
“The attorney general wanted one negative article a day in the news media about Mr. Comey,” the Times’s Michael Schmidt reports. The Justice Department denies this report.
The same day, Rosenstein allegedly informs one of McGahn’s deputies that the White House team and the Justice Department needed to discuss Comey’s future, according to Schmidt.
Trump heads to his private golf club in Bedminster, N.J. for the weekend.
While there, he asks aide Stephen Miller to draft a letter to be sent to Comey firing him. Schmidt reports that people who’d seen the letter said that the first line mentioned the Russia investigation. This letter is never sent.
Trump meets with Sessions and Rosenstein. The latter agrees to draft a memo making the case for firing Comey.
Yates and former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. testify at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. There, Yates details the timeline of her discussions with McGahn about Flynn. Yates also echoes Comey’s line about being unable to confirm or deny collusion because doing so might reveal classified information.
Trump fires Comey.
In doing so, the president cites a recommendation from Sessions which itself is based on a memo from Rosenstein. That memo doesn’t itself recommend firing Comey, instead focusing almost solely on criticism of the director’s handling of the Clinton email investigation.
Trump’s letter firing Comey reads, in part:
“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.”
Comey is informed of his firing not by the letter but by news reports of his ouster while he’s preparing to give a speech in California.
In a meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office, Trump refers to Comey as a “nutjob.”
Trump is interviewed by NBC’s Lester Holt. During that interview, he explains why he felt that Comey should be fired.
It doesn’t center on Comey’s handling of the email server.
“In fact when I decided to just do it,” Trump says, “I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’ ”
Trump tweets an apparent threat to Comey.
The Times reports that Comey has contemporaneous memos detailing his conversations with Trump, memos that include Trump’s request to “let go” of the Flynn investigation.
It’s later revealed that Comey asked an ally to share details of those memos with the Times in response to Trump’s tweet of May 12 and that he hoped to do so to spur the appointment of a special counsel.
Rosenstein, as the Justice Department’s ranking authority on Russia matters, announces the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russian meddling and any connections to the Trump campaign team.
To serve in that role he selects Mueller, the man Comey replaced at the FBI.