President Trump had been thinking of firing James Comey from his post as FBI director ever since he was elected in November, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday.
“The president … had lost confidence in Director Comey,” Sanders told reporters. “He’d been considering letting Director Comey go since they day he was elected.”
At the same time, she denied that Trump ordered Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, to come up with a rationale to fire him.
Trump met Monday with Sessions and Rosenstein, who expressed their own concerns about Comey's conduct to the president, according to Sanders. Trump then asked both men "to put that recommendation in writing." The next day Trump made the decision to oust him.
Sanders’s comments added confusion to the circumstances surrounding Comey’s abrupt firing Tuesday evening.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump vacillated between praising and criticizing Comey’s handling of the investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry negative images are defining White House Heller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll MORE’s use of a private email server.
But after his victory in November, Trump made several friendly gestures to Comey. He shook hands and embraced him during a reception for law enforcement officials just days after his inauguration. He also defended his handling of the Clinton email probe during an April interview with Fox Business network.
“I have confidence at him, we'll see what happens,” he said. “I want to give everybody a good fair chance.”
Just last week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump "has confidence" in Comey after Trump tweeted that he had given Clinton a "free pass" during the election.
Sanders repeated Trump’s claim that he “wanted to give Director Comey a chance" but said he became increasingly frustrated by what she described as "atrocities" committed by the FBI chief.
The spokeswoman likened Comey's announcement last summer that he would not recommend charges against Clinton over her private email server to "throwing a stick of dynamite” into the Justice Department.
“Most importantly, the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director," Sanders claimed.
- Updated at 3:36 p.m.