But as Trump prosecuted this case on “Fox and Friends,” he inadvertently highlighted his own role in setting the table.
Trump in the interview made a point to argue that hiring Wray was not his call.
“He was appointed by [then-Deputy Attorney General] Rod Rosenstein and — a lot of things are coming out,” Trump said, before restating the same point. “He was recommended by Chris [Christie], but he was appointed by — he was really recommended by Rod Rosenstein.”
In fact, it was Trump who nominated Wray to be his FBI director. Rosenstein may have played a role, but the selection of an FBI director — to a 10-year term, no less — is a president’s call.
More tellingly, Trump then sought to distance himself from another inconvenient figure in this whole saga: former attorney general Jeff Sessions. Trump said he installed Sessions as attorney general even though he was not fit for the job — because of loyalty and Sessions “begging” him for the job.
“I didn’t want to make him attorney general, but he was the first senator to endorse me. So I felt a little bit of an obligation,” Trump said. “He came to see me four times, just begging me to be attorney general. He wasn’t, you know, to me, equipped to be attorney general. But he wanted it, wanted it, wanted it.”
Trump added: “He was a smaller version of [attorney general] in Alabama for a little while. He was a very average guy, I’d find out. … He was so bad in his nomination proceedings. I should have gotten rid of him there."
That’s a remarkable admission. Trump has previously acknowledged that he made a mistake in picking Sessions — citing Sessions’s recusal from the Russia investigation that has formed the basis of Trump’s accusations of political targeting by the FBI. But he’s now saying that he knew Sessions was a bad pick, and that this was reinforced before his confirmation, and yet Trump … pushed forward with letting him become the nation’s top law enforcement officer anyway?
What’s even more puzzling about Trump’s comments is that not only did he nominate both Sessions and Wray, but also Rosenstein. So to the extent that Wray was a mistake facilitated by Rosenstein, wouldn’t that also reflect upon Trump’s hiring decisions?
That, as you might have guessed, was not his doing, either.
“He was hired by Jeff Sessions,” Trump said of Rosenstein in 2018. “I was not involved in that process because, you know, they go out and get their own deputies and the people that work in the department.”
Trump would later refer in a February 2019 tweet to Rosenstein as someone “who was hired by Jeff Sessions.”
So Trump blames Wray on Rosenstein, he blames Rosenstein on Sessions, and he blames Sessions on Sessions’s begging and loyalty — while claiming he didn’t even want Sessions in the first place.
Even if you accept that a president might rely upon advice for selecting people for roles such as deputy attorneys general and FBI directors, all of it filters up to the man Trump picked for his first attorney general — a man who Trump now admits, inexplicably, that he picked despite knowing it was a bad call.
And these three hires all play major roles in the clash between Trump and law enforcement that we see today. Sessions’s recusal meant Rosenstein took on oversight of the Russia investigation, and he would later appoint special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to run the probe. Wray, meanwhile, has long been in the crosshairs of Trump-backing critics of the FBI, and Trump offered some of his more skeptical comments to date about Wray on Friday.
To some degree, it seems, whatever rot might exist in the Justice Department these days could be traced to the man who ultimately made the decisions about who would run it — the man who has claimed he hires only “the best people.” That man now seems to confirm his own fatal miscalculation and his lack of attentiveness in making sure the “best people” were indeed there.
This post has been updated.