President Donald Trump was already inclined to dismiss FBI Director James Comey when he met on Monday with the top two officials from the Department of Justice, deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday, a somewhat different timeline of events than what the Trump administration first presented.
In the immediate hours following Comey’s firing, White House officials said that the FBI director had been dismissed based solely on the unprompted recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, delivered in the form of a two-page memo to the president. But Thursday morning, Sanders did not dispute reports from multiple media outlets that it was Trump who first raised the issue of dismissing Comey, although she insisted that the arguments laid out by Rosenstein were his own.
Asked if Rosenstein had been directed by the White House to examine Comey’s performance as FBI director, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday night that “it was all him” – referring to Rosenstein – and that nobody from the White House had been involved in the deputy attorney general’s recommendation. Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway said Tuesday that the firing has “everything to do” with Rosenstein’s recommendation and Vice President Mike Pence, speaking to reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday, repeatedly said that the firing had come based on Rosenstein’s suggestion.
On Thursday, Sanders conceded that it was Trump who had first raised questions about Comey, not Rosenstein.
“The information in the letter was something that [Rosenstein] came to on his own. On Monday they were at the White House for other meetings. The president asked them about their opinions on Comey. They told him,” Sanders explained on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “He asked for them to put that in writing, the conversation that they had had orally there at the White House on Monday, asked them to put it in writing. They did that on Tuesday. But it wasn’t directed or those – the words that were written weren’t at the direction necessarily of the president. Those were their own thoughts and ideas.”
Presented with the past comments from Conway, Spicer and Pence, Sanders complained that “Good Morning America” anchor George Stephanopoulos was focused too much on the sequence of events that led to Rosenstein offering his recommendation rather than the substance of the recommendation itself. Sanders remained consistent with an explanation she gave at Wednesday’s press briefing, telling Stephanopoulos that Trump had been considering firing Comey from the day he was elected.
“[Trump] did not direct [Rosentein] to write the context of the memo. He asked him to put the comments that he had already made directly to the president in writing,” Sanders reiterated later in her interview with Stephanopoulos. “Again, I think that you’re trying to beat up the process but the point here is that the findings in the letter, in the recommendation were original thoughts by Mr. Rosenstein.”