Thursday, May 11, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He offered an explanation for his firing of FBI Director James Comey that completely contradicted the White House's previous explanation.

The original rationale given in Trump's letter to Comey, and the one solemnly repeated by advisors, press secretaries, and Vice-President Pence, was that Attorney General Jefferson Sessions and Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein had concluded that Comey's handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mail server in July 2016 merited his firing now. Trump, according to this version of events, merely "accepted their recommendation." As press secretary Sean Spicer put it, "It was all him [Rosenstein]."

Today, Trump told NBC's Lester Holt that he had been considering firing Comey from the moment he was elected, and had sent Sessions in search of an excuse to do so. While this explanation has the benefit of being far more believable, it too may have been motivated by forces beyond Trump's control: according to a White House source, Deputy AG Rosenstein was furious that his report on Comey was used for this purpose. Rosenstein reportedly threatened to resign in protest (although he has publicly said he is staying on), and made an unannounced trip to Capitol Hill today to meet with the leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

As Trump's explanation evolves, so too does the consensus view for the real explanation behind Comey's firing. The immediate suspicion was that the rapidly progressing Russia investigation had forced Trump's hand. But Comey testified last week that he was "nauseous" at the thought that his actions might have influenced the presidential election. Trump, who is notoriously sensitive to any hint that his election was anything less than a personal triumph, was reportedly "white hot" with rage over Comey's choice of words.


  • "Go get me reasons to support the decision I've already made" is not something you want to hear from a president.
  • A president acting out of "white hot" rage is only slightly better than a president trying to subvert an investigation about him.
  • It's bad if virtually no one takes the president's first explanation for anything at face value.