May 11, 2017

The White House's changing story on the Comey firing

Rebecca Zisser / Axios

For two days the White House narrative was clear: President Trump decided to fire James Comey after receiving a damning recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. But on Thursday, Trump emerged to say he had been determined to fire Comey "regardless of recommendation." Here's how the explanations have shifted:

Tuesday evening: Trump fires Comey

White House statement

"President Trump acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions."

Trump's letter to Comey

"I have received the attached letters from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States recommending your dismissal as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I have accepted their recommendation."

Tuesday night: The White House starts spinning

Kellyanne Conway on CNN

"He acted decisively today, he took the recommendation of his Deputy Attorney General…. I would really ask everyone tonight to read Mr Rosenstein's memo. This is what he presented to the Attorney General, he presented to the president and the president took decisive action."

Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Fox News

"The president was presented with a pretty clear and direct and very strong recommendation by the Deputy Attorney General… the deputy made the recommendation, the president made a swift and decisive action and let Comey go."

Sean Spicer on Fox Business

"The Deputy Attorney General… made a determination that the FBI director had lost his confidence, made a recommendation to the Attorney General, the Attorney General concurred with that and forwarded that recommendation on to the president who agreed with their conclusions and terminated the FBI Director's position."

Wednesday: holding the line

Sanders on Morning Joe

Willie Geist: "Why specifically did President Trump fire FBI director James Comey?"

Sanders: "I think it's real simple here…. People in the Justice Department made a very strong recommendation, the president followed it."

Mike Pence to reporters

"President Trump made the right decision at the right time to accept the recommendation of the Deputy Attorney General and the Attorney General."

Sanders at the daily briefing

Jon Karl: Isn't it true that the president had already decided to fire James Comey and he asked the Justice Department to put together the rationale for that firing?

Sanders: No.

Karl: When did he make the decision?

Sanders: The final decision to move forward with it was yesterday.

Karl: Well, was the reason for the firing what was written by the Deputy Attorney General? Is that why he did it?

Sanders That was I think the final piece that moved the president to make that quick and decisive action yesterday.

Thursday: Trump drops a bomb

Trump on NBC

"I was going to fire Comey. I was going to fire regardless of recommendation… he made a recommendation but regardless of recommendation I was going to fire Comey."

Sanders at daily briefing

"I hadn't had a chance to have the conversation directly with the president... I've since had the conversation and he laid it out very clearly. He had already made that decision... the recommendation that he got from the Deputy Attorney General just further solidified his decision."

"Nobody was in the dark."

"Why are we arguing about the semantics of whether or not they accepted it? They agreed!"

"Our story is consistent."

Go deeper