In a preview clip for NBC’s Lester Holt interview of President Donald Trump, which will air tonight, Trump essentially destroys the entire case his communications team has been making for days. This, you will recall, was the original timeline: on Tuesday, Trump was provided with a memo by deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein recommending the firing of FBI director James Comey for his botched execution of the Hillary Clinton email investigation; Trump received a recommendation from Attorney General Jeff Sessions as well; Trump then fired Comey on the basis of those recommendations. Kellyanne Conway appeared on national television to inform Americans that nobody could question Trump’s timing on the firing, even though the events at issue had occurred months ago, and Comey was in the midst of investigating connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
On Thursday, Trump blew up that timeline.
TRUMP says he was going to fire Comey regardless of recommendation—says he asked Comey if he was under investigation https://t.co/TKDralbLzJ— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) May 11, 2017
TRUMP: He’s a showboat, he’s a grandstander. The FBI has been in turmoil. You know that, I know that, everybody knows that. You take a look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil, less than a year ago. It hasn’t recovered from that.
HOLT: Monday you met with deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein. Did you ask for a recommendation?
TRUMP: What I did is, I was going to fire Comey, my decision –
HOLT: You had made the decision before they came into 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. He made a recommendation, he’s highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy, the Democrats like him, the Republicans like him, he made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation I was going to fire him.
There goes the shoddy cover of Rosenstein’s letter. Trump wanted Comey gone, solicited a letter from Rosenstein, and Rosenstein obliged. The White House then tried to pin the firing on Rosenstein before that excuse collapsed. And Trump himself says so. Ugh.
This is in direct contravention of the words of Vice President Mike Pence, who explained yesterday that Trump had taken “strong” action “by accepting the recommendation of the deputy attorney general to remove director Comey as the head of the FBI.”
Remember, Trump supposedly fired Mike Flynn because Flynn lied to Pence, making a liar of Pence on national television. Oops.
Trump also blew up the notion that he had cited in his letter that Comey had exonerated him; instead, Trump admitted that he had asked Comey whether Comey was investigating him personally, and Comey had said no – which doesn’t answer whether Trump would be peripherally investigated in an investigation of his campaign:
HOLT: Let me as you about your termination letter to Mr. Comey. You write, “I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.” Why did you put that in there?
TRUMP: Because he told me that, I mean he told me that.
HOLT: He told you you weren’t under investigation with regard to the Russia investigation.
TRUMP: I’ve heard that from others.
HOLT: Was it in a phone call, did you meet face-to-face?
TRUMP: I had a dinner with him, he wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on. We had a very nice dinner at the White House very early on, the dinner was arranged, I think he asked for the dinner. He wanted to stay on as FBI head, I said, “I’ll consider, we’ll see what happens,” but we had a very nice dinner, and at that time he told me, “You are not under investigation.” Which I knew anyway, when you’re under investigation you’re given all sorts of documents and everything, I knew I wasn’t under, and I heard it was stated at some committee level that I wasn’t. Then during the phone call he said it and then during another phone call he said it. So he said it once at dinner and then he said it twice during phone calls.
HOLT: Did you call him?
TRUMP: In one case I called him, in one case he called me.
HOLT: And did you ask him, “Am I under investigation?”
TRUMP: I actually asked him, yes, I said, “If it’s possible, will you let me know, am I under investigation?” He said, “You are not under investigation.”
HOLT: But he has given sworn testimony that there is an ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign and possible collusion with the Russian government. You were the centerpiece of the Trump campaign. So was he being truthful?
TRUMP: All I can tell you, I know one thing, I knew that I’m not under investigation, me, personally, I’m not talking about campaigns, about anything else, me, personally, I’m not under investigation.
This backs up the theory that Trump doesn’t truly care whether former campaign manager Paul Manafort or former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn are under investigation, or whether any ties could be uncovered there – Trump doesn’t understand why Comey wouldn’t just clear him personally, something Comey couldn’t do given the ongoing investigation of Trump’s campaign.
So, here’s what we know: the White House’s original logic for tossing Comey was false; Trump had a problem with Comey personally based on Comey’s self-aggrandizement; and Trump was upset with Comey that Comey wouldn’t simply exonerate him. None of that is evidence that Trump fired Comey because Comey was getting close to any Russia collusion evidence. It is evidence of puerile temperament and rampant political stupidity.