This post is updated with more Trump comments from his NBC News interview, airing Thursday night, in which he suggested the Russia investigation factored into his decision.
After they had spent nearly two days emphasizing that this was a decision Trump arrived at after receiving a memo and recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, Trump just blurted out that he was going to fire Comey all along. Basically, he admitted the memo was a ruse and a political ploy.
And he even seemed to suggest he may have fired Comey because of the Russia investigation -- which only makes his decision more controversial and runs counter to the suggestions of everyone who has spoken on his behalf in recent days.
Here’s what Trump told NBC News’s Lester Holt (emphasis mine):
HOLT: Did you ask for a recommendation?TRUMP: What I did is, I was going to fire Comey. My decision. It was not . . .HOLT: You had made the decision before they came in the room.TRUMP: I was going to fire Comey. There’s no good time to do it, by the way.HOLT: Because in your letter, you said, ‘I accepted their recommendation.’ So you had already made the decision.TRUMP: Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.
But that's not what White House press secretary Sean Spicer said this week — not by a long shot.
Here’s Jenna Johnson’s reporting from the scene Tuesday night (with my emphasis added):
As Spicer tells it, Rosenstein was confirmed about two weeks ago and independently took on this issue so the president was not aware of the probe until he received a memo from Rosenstein on Tuesday, along with a letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions recommending that Comey be fired. The president then swiftly decided to follow the recommendation, notifying the FBI via email around 5 p.m. and in a letter delivered to the FBI by the president’s longtime bodyguard. At the same time, the president personally called congressional leaders to let them know his decision. Comey learned the news from media reports.“It was all him,” Spicer said of Rosenstein, as a reporter repeated his answer back to him. “That’s correct — I mean, I can’t, I guess I shouldn’t say that, thank you for the help on that one. No one from the White House. That was a DOJ decision.”
And here’s deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday morning in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”:
MARK HALPERIN: Sarah, you’ve suggested in response to David’s questions that the deputy attorney general wrote this report on his own without orders from the White House. That’s correct, right?SANDERS: That’s my understanding, yes.HALPERIN: Okay. So once the report is written, when was it transmitted to the White House? And why was there urgency to act on it without an explanation directly from the president and without a replacement lined up? Why, once the report is written, why was there an urgency to act on it from the president's point of view?SANDERS: Look, I think when you receive a report that is so clear and a recommendation by someone like the deputy attorney general, you have no choice but to act.
And here’s White House counselor Kellyanne Conway in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday night:
This man is the president of the United States. He acted decisively today. He took the recommendation of his deputy attorney general, who oversees the FBI director. ... He has lost confidence in the FBI director and he took the recommendation of Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, to whom the FBI director reports to. The deputy attorney general has been on the job two short weeks. He went in there.
Later, she said:
At the same time, he is taking the recommendation of his deputy attorney general and the attorney general of the United States that it is time for fresh leadership and to restore integrity at the FBI. This is what leaders do. They take decisive action based on the information they’re provided. That's what President Trump did today.
Spicer’s version of events is utterly obliterated by Trump’s comments on Thursday. With Sanders and Conway, you could make an argument that Trump was indeed, technically speaking, taking Rosenstein’s recommendation and then acting.
But if the decision had already been made, that’s a highly misleading talking point to keep repeating. After all, the decision clearly had nothing to do with Rosenstein.
It’s clear that the White House wanted to use Rosenstein’s credibility, built up over three decades in law enforcement, to make this decision look apolitical. This made it seem like it wasn’t just the president unilaterally firing the guy who was investigating his 2016 campaign's ties to Russia. This was actually a talking point and narrative that was intended to protect Trump.
But then Trump himself told us the truth.