Team Trump changes its tune on the Comey firing

Politico reports that President Trump “had grown enraged by the Russia investigation” and “frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia.” It also reports that Trump repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn’t disappear and sometimes screamed at television clips about the probe.

Politico’s Josh Dawsey attributes the first part of this report — Trump growing enraged by the Russia investigation — to two advisers. He attributes the bit about Trump screaming at the television to one adviser.

This story puts a different spin on the firing of James Comey than the one initially offered by the Trump administration and its supporters. At first, they portrayed the decision as percolating up from below — specifically from Rod Rosenstein, the new Deputy Attorney General, who believes Comey acted unprofessionally regarding the investigation of Hillary Clinton.

But if Trump is furious with the Russia investigation and can’t understand why it hasn’t disappeared, one can easily conclude that Trump played a larger role than just ratifying a recommendation from below. In this scenario, the sacking of Comey wasn’t about Hillary Clinton (or not just about her). It was also about Russia.

That conclusion doesn’t exactly follow from reports of Trump’s fury. It’s possible that the firing was largely Rosenstein’s doing and that Trump’s anger contributed only to his ratification of the recommendations of Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions. However, one can easily imagine the anger leading to more involvement by Trump in the process than the administration first seemed to acknowledge.

Later in the Politico story, Dawsey addresses this matter directly. He writes:

Trump received letters from Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, and Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, calling for Comey’s dismissal, on Tuesday, a spokesman said. The president then decided to fire the FBI director based on the recommendations and moved quickly. The spokesman said Trump did not ask for the letters in advance, and that White House officials had no idea they were coming.

But several other people familiar with the events said Trump had talked about the firing for more than a week, and the letters were written to give him a rationale for firing Comey.

(Emphasis added)

Notice that Dawsey is now citing “people familiar with the events” rather than “advisers,” as he did earlier in his story. This makes me wonder whether his support for the claim that the letters were written to give Trump a rationale for firing Comey is weak. In this regard, I also question whether Rod Rosenstein would be part of a scheme to fire Comey on a naked pretext.

However, it does seem that Team Trump, through the information it provided Politico, as well as the New York Times, is acknowledging that the president had a more central role in the decision to sack Comey than it initially suggested.

The change in the administration’s line doesn’t inspire confidence, either in its savvy or its honesty. And the new line — the Trump was furious with the FBI investigation into a possible Russian connection — will make it easier to attack Trump’s decision to fire Comey.

The Politico story raises an additional question: Is Trump really puzzled that the Russia story won’t “disappear?” If so, he’s quite naive. But then, it’s been reported that Trump thought his firing of Comey wouldn’t be controversial. That’s hopelessly naive.

NOTE: I have revised this post since it first appeared and have changed the title. The changes reflect my realization that Team Trump is intentionally revising its line on the Comey firing.

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