As the Trump administration came under fire for the unexpected dismissal of the FBI director this week, the President and his aides inundated the public with a whiplash-inducing amount of misleading statements, bizarre tweets and contradictory accounts of how James Comey’s tenure came to an end.
The dizzying onslaught surrounding one of the biggest shakeups in modern presidential history included barbed attacks on the media, tweets about Rosie O’Donnell and an ill-timed sitdown with the Russian Foreign Minister.
The turmoil only deepened on Thursday as Trump blew a hole in his administration’s claims that he fired Comey at the behest of top Department of Justice officials, admitting instead it was always his plan.
“Regardless of recommendation I was going to fire Comey,” he told NBC News’ Lester Holt.
“He’s a showboat, he’s grandstander, the FBI has been in turmoil,” Trump added without a touch of irony. “You know that, I know that. Everybody knows that.”
The FBI is investigating possible ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia’s intervention in last year’s election.
The President’s comments directly contradict his own surrogates’ claims that the decision followed a formal recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
The fallout following the firing of Comey, whom the President continued to assert personally assured him on three occasions that he was not under investigation, led the commander-in-chief to set his sights on one of his favorite old targets.
On Thursday afternoon, Trump retweeted a message that comedienne and Trump foil Rosie O’Donnell sent in December: “FIRE COMEY.”
“We finally agree on something Rosie,” Trump added.
The President later appeared to vent his frustrations over the reactions to Comey’s dismissal.
“Russia must be laughing up their sleeves watching as the U.S. tears itself apart over a Democrat EXCUSE for losing the election,” he tweeted — ignoring his welcoming top Russian officials in the Oval Office on Wednesday, and allowing Russian state media but not U.S. reporters to observe. Their pictures showed Trump and two top Russian diplomats — one of whom the White House never acknowledged was in the meeting — appearing to share some laughs the day after the Comey canning.
“They tricked us,” an angry White House official told CNN after the photos were posted by Russia’s news agency, TASS.
Earlier Thursday, Time magazine published an in-depth interview offering a glimpse into life in the White House residence — where Trump gets two scoops of ice cream with his pie and has installed a crystal chandelier and a massive 60-inch TV.
During the interview, conducted on Monday, Trump showed off his viewing habits and added his own color commentary.
While watching clips of former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates’ recent Senate testimony, Trump compared the pair to mutts.
“Watch them start to choke like dogs,” Trump said as the two respond to questions from senators. “Watch what happens. They are desperate for breath.”
Trump also took aim at his perceived adversaries in the media, calling CNN’s Don Lemon “the dumbest person in broadcasting,” comparing Chris Cuomo to “a chained lunatic,” and calling Stephen Colbert a “no-talent” and “filthy.”
That same night, Trump appeared to have the FBI’s investigation on his mind.
“Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?” he tweeted.
Less than 24 hours later, the President fired Comey.
The manic media storm and the backlash from Washington were amplified as mixed messages were beamed out of the White House.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer and others appeared at first utterly unprepared to explain the move.
As deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway appeared on TV, Spicer was “huddling with his staff behind a tall hedge,” according to the Washington Post.
He emerged and implored the cameramen to turn off their lights before answering a few questions.
Spicer and others finally found their voice, repeating on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning that Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions were the ones who brought up firing Comey on their own.
“He asked them for their recommendation, based on the conversation that they had on Monday. He asked them to put that recommendation in writing. But they came to him on his own,” Sanders said during a Wednesday press conference, calling Rosenstein’s recommendation “the final catalyst” for Comey’s firing.
But Trump flat out contradicted his own team’s message on Thursday.
“I was going to fire Comey knowing, there was no good time to do it,” Trump told Holt. “And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.”
His comments also made a liar out of Vice President Pence, who told reporters Wednesday the President’s decision was based solely on Rosenstein’s finding that Comey had mishandled his public disclosures about the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
Those disclosures were well known to Trump, who often talked about them on the campaign trail and decided to keep Comey in his post after he was inaugurated.
Trump’s own letter firing Comey said he “accepted (Sessions and Rosenstein’s) recommendation” to fire him and that he “concur(red)” with their view, a clear attempt to skirt blame.
Democrats took aim at the conflicting statements.
“Which one was it? Did the vice president mislead the public or did the president?” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked Thursday afternoon. “And why did it take so long for the White House to get its story straight?”