Top White House aides on Wednesday rushed to defend President Trump’s sudden termination of FBI Director James Comey, as news emerged that the commander-in-chief’s abrupt decision was likely a product of his growing fury with the former agency’s chief refusal to clear him in its Russia probe.
In a lengthy interview on CNN, a flustered Kellyanne Conway blasted concerns over the timing of Comey’s firing as “inappropriate,” raising even more questions about why Trump would have canned the former spy agency leader amid its investigation.
“You want to question the timing of when he fires? When he hires? It’s inappropriate,” Trump’s White House counselor said. “He’ll do it when he wants to, just like he fired FBI Director Comey when he was faced with evidence that was unignorable.”
Conway also refused to say whether Trump had anyone in mind to replace Comey, before attempting to shoot down growing questions over whether the firing was part of an effort to squash an investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia.
“It’s not a cover-up,” she said. “In fact the President makes very clear in his letter the fact that Mr. Comey on three occasions assured him he is not under investigation. The President says that’s between the president of the United States and director Comey. But he is telling on at least three occasions he assured him he’s not under investigation.”
Conway refused to reveal any further details about the three alleged meetings.
A night earlier, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s deputy press secretary was more forthcoming in discussing her boss’ possible rationale.
“It’s time to move on,” Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday night, when asked by reporters if the decision was related to the FBI’s ongoing investigation into whether members of the Trump campaign and transition team had coordinated with Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 election.
Trump was reportedly furious over the growing investigation and had grown particularly irate after Comey had confirmed during testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this year that his agency was in fact probing the Trump campaign.
According to Politico, Trump’s anger only grew when Comey refused to support Trump’s baseless claims that former President Barack Obama had ordered illegal wiretaps of Trump Tower, and often led to the President literally “screaming” at the television.
Trump, Politico reported Wednesday, had been considering firing Comey for more than a week and decided to pull the trigger Tuesday night with little advance warning to much of his staff.
In a letter to Comey, Trump wrote that the move was necessary to restore “public trust and confidence” in the FBI and cited recommendations from Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who had been forced to recuse himself from the investigation after it became public that he’d privately met with Russia’s ambassador during the campaign — and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who said Comey should be fired because he mishandled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Trump also claimed that Comey had informed Trump “on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation,” while thanking him for his service.
The White House has refused to provide any further information about those alleged occasions.
The firing came almost immediately after the FBI publicly clarified Comey’s testimony from last week where he inaccurately claimed that top Clinton aide Huma Abedin had sent “hundreds and thousands” of emails to her disgraced husband Anthony Weiner, under investigation for allegedly sexting a teenager, when it turned out it was just two classified emails.
But Trump and Sessions had both been well aware of Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation, and had praised him for his “guts” in reopening the probe in the final days of the election campaign, suggesting that Comey’s handling of the Clinton probe was not a factor.
In fact, Trump tweeted Monday that “the Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax” and asked “when will this taxpayer funded charade end?”
Trump may have also been influenced by Roger Stone — a former informal Trump campaign adviser who himself is a target of the FBI probe — who, Politico reported, had urged the President to fire Comey.
Comey, meanwhile, was apparently blindsided by the firing. He was in Los Angeles, about to give a speech, and found out from TV news before he could receive Trump’s letter.
The firing also triggered alarm bells throughout Washington, as the only investigation with subpoena power into whether Trump’s team colluded with Russian agents to rig the election in his favor was suddenly put at risk.
The agency had recently put that power to work — CNN reported Tuesday the FBI had in recent weeks issued subpoenas to associates of Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn was fired for lying to Vice President Pence about conversations he’d had with the Russian ambassador.