President Trump said in an interview aired Wednesday morning that he has “confidence” in FBI Director James B. Comey, but it was “not too late” to fire him.
Trump has long sent mixed signals on Comey and the bureau director’s future in government, though his comments to Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo are especially important because Comey has now confirmed that the bureau is investigating possible coordination between the Russian government and the Trump campaign to influence the presidential election.
Bartiromo brought up Comey’s name during a conversation about other Cabinet posts and government positions. After telling the president people were “scratching their heads” about President Barack Obama staffers that remained in place, Bartiromo asked, “For example, was it a mistake not to ask Jim Comey to step down from the FBI at the outset of your presidency? Is it too late now to ask him to step down?”
“No, it’s not too late, but, you know, I have confidence in him,” Trump responded. “We’ll see what happens. You know, it’s going to be interesting.”
The FBI director serves a fixed, 10-year term in part to insulate the bureau from political influence, though he is a part of the Department of Justice and lower on the organizational chart than the attorney general, a political position that changes with each new presidential administration. President Bill Clinton is the only president to have removed an FBI director since the death of J. Edgar Hoover in 1972. Clinton fired William S. Sessions in 1993 amid allegations of ethical improprieties.
Relieving Comey of his duties would be politically damaging for Trump — especially with the bureau’s ongoing investigation related to his presidential campaign. On Monday, The Washington Post reported that the bureau had obtained a secret court order to monitor the communications of Carter Page, who had served as an adviser on the Trump campaign and who investigators thought might be acting as an agent of Russia.
Comey has given the president a few reasons not to like him, and vice versa. After Trump claimed on Twitter, without evidence, that Obama ordered a wiretap of him before the election, Comey asked the Justice Department to issue a statement disputing the claim. At a later congressional hearing, Comey said he had “no information” to support the president’s assertions.
For his part, Trump has long been critical of Comey’s decision not to charge Hillary Clinton after an investigation into whether she mishandled classified information in using a private email server while she was secretary of state. Soon after he was elected, Trump said he was “not sure” whether he would keep the FBI director and wanted to meet with him first. He had said previously that Comey “made a mistake” in not charging Clinton and added: “I think something happened.”
But Trump also had said Comey “brought back his reputation” by revealing in October — less than two weeks before the election — that agents were resuming the Clinton probe. Comey faced significant criticism for that revelation, which apparently violated Department of Justice rules, and some Clinton supporters felt it cost their preferred candidate the presidency.
Soon after his inauguration, Trump shook Comey’s hand and patted him on the back during a reception at the White House and quipped, “He’s become more famous than me” — a reference to the fire the FBI director had come under for his actions.
Trump again brought up the Clinton investigation in the Fox Business Network interview, telling Bartiromo, “Don’t forget, when Jim Comey came out, he saved Hillary Clinton. People don’t realize that. He saved her life, because — I call it Comey won. And I joke about it a little bit.”
Referencing a July news conference in which Comey criticized Clinton and her aides for their treatment of classified information but declared he was recommending no one be charged, Trump said: “When he was reading those charges, she was guilty on every charge. And then he said, she was essentially okay. But he — she wasn’t okay, because she was guilty on every charge.”
“Director Comey was very, very good to Hillary Clinton, that I can tell you. If he weren’t, she would be, right now, going to trial,” Trump said.
“Are you going to push that?” Bartiromo asked.
“No, I don’t want to talk about that,” Trump responded.
Asked to respond to Trump’s comments, Brian Fallon, who had worked as a Clinton campaign spokesman, said: “There is only one candidate from the 2016 campaign currently facing a federal investigation, and it’s Donald Trump.”
“Trump wants to relive the campaign, but he’s not running against Hillary Clinton anymore,” Fallon said. “Now his problem is Jim Comey.”
The FBI did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Trump had previously said he would appoint a special prosecutor to examine the Clinton case, even after Comey concluded neither she nor her aides had intended to mishandle classified information and thus should not be charged, though he later made comments suggesting he wanted to move past the issue.