As with many of the president’s 2,400-plus erroneous statements, it will take more words to explain what Trump got wrong and why it matters than it did for him to mangle the truth.
In his tweet, Trump referred to a question that Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) asked Comey at a Senate hearing in May — a few days before Trump fired the FBI director, who had been overseeing an investigation into whether Trump’s campaign had illegally worked with the Russian government.
While special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has taken over that investigation, Comey’s credibility could still be important to its success. Trump has repeatedly suggested that FBI mismanagement under Comey’s watch has tainted the entire probe, and the president’s attorney has called to shut down the investigation.
Trump’s Sunday morning tweet made it look as if Comey’s old testimony directly contradicted a statement that former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe released last week, claiming that Comey knew McCabe had authorized agents to speak anonymously to a reporter in 2016.
But Grassley didn’t ask Comey whether he had ever “known someone else to be an anonymous source,” as Trump wrote.
Here’s their actual interaction at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in May, which “Fox & Friends” aired Sunday and which Trump presumably watched (emphasis by The Washington Post):
GRASSLEY: Director Comey, have you ever been an anonymous source in news reports about matters relating to the Trump investigation or the Clinton investigation?
GRASSLEY: Question two, relatively related, have you ever authorized someone else at the FBI to be an anonymous source in news reports about the Trump investigation or the Clinton investigation?
Even quoted accurately, that testimony could be a problem for Comey in light of McCabe’s statement last week, if not the smoking gun Trump portrayed it as.
“Fox & Friends” certainly thought so.
On Sunday’s show, the hosts paired video of Comey’s testimony from May with McCabe’s statement, which he released after being fired from the FBI on Friday — accused of improperly authorizing media leaks in 2016, then misleading the agency’s internal investigators.
“I was one of only a few people who had the authority to do that,” McCabe wrote, defending the leak. “It was not a secret, it took place over several days, and others, including the Director, were aware of the interaction with the reporter.”
“That’s Director Comey,” noted “Fox & Friends” co-host Pete Hegseth, as he read McCabe’s statement aloud.
“Aha!” chimed in co-host Ed Henry. “Ooh! That was under oath! That was under oath!”
“Somebody's lying,” concluded co-host Rachel Campos-Duffy.
They didn’t clarify how Comey was lying, nor did they — as Trump would when he tweeted about the segment — misquote the former FBI director’s testimony.
But the “Fox & Friends” hosts may have a point regardless. McCabe’s statement on Friday raises questions about Comey’s testimony last year, even if it does not directly contradict it.
Comey’s attorneys have declined to publicly respond to McCabe’s claim — to either dispute it or offer context. It is possible that if pressed, Comey would argue that there is a difference between “authorizing” something, as he testified, and being “aware” of it, as McCabe said he was. As a deputy FBI director at the time, McCabe claims he already had authority to approve the conversation with the reporter.
But that is an argument to come, if it happens. And it is a world apart from what Trump tweeted after “Fox & Friends” aired — changing the question that Comey had answered to claim he had been caught in a criminal lie.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on this matter.
The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 18, 2018
Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.