President Donald Trump on Friday opened a two-front war over the firing of James Comey, first threatening to cancel media press briefings and then issuing an ominous warning to his former FBI director that he should hope there aren’t recordings of his conversations with the president.
Trump’s stern warnings come as the president and his White House have faced a backlash for their handling of Comey’s termination. Both have come under heavy criticism for the multiple and often contradictory statements over Comey’s firing, while Democrats have seized on the firing as a new line of attack to hammer the president over the probe into alleged Russia ties.
The president launched into a defense of his communications staff a little before 8 a.m., which until Wednesday had repeatedly explained the president’s firing of Comey as coming directly as the result of a recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
But Trump himself directly contradicted that timeline of events, which had been pushed not only by spokespeople including Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders but also by Vice President Mike Pence, by telling NBC News in an interview that his mind was already made up and “regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.”
The differing stories left Sanders, the deputy White House press secretary, in the awkward position on Thursday of attempting to explain why she and others had misrepresented the president’s thinking. Friday morning, Trump said his spokespeople should not be expected to be able to necessarily speak accurately about his positions and his administration, tacking on a threat to cancel all future press briefings in a subsequent post.
“As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future "press briefings" and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”
Minutes later, Trump took a different tack, seemingly warning Comey not to speak to the press and suggesting that there might be compromising recordings of the former FBI director’s conversations with the president that could come out.
“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump wrote.
The threat was especially eyebrow-raising given Trump’s assertion that Comey had, on multiple occasions, assured him that he was not under investigation by the bureau. Such a conversation, if it occurred the way Trump explained, would likely be considered inappropriate by many given that the bureau is currently investigating his presidential campaign.
In testimony before Congress in late March, Comey refused to answer a question as to whether or not the president himself was under investigation, but in his NBC News interview, Trump reiterated to anchor Lester Holt that the former director had assured him three times, once in person and two more times over the phone. Trump said it was he who had asked Comey whether or not he was a subject of the investigation and that the director had readily responded that he was not.
The notion that Trump may have interfered somehow with the FBI’s Russia probe has prompted renewed calls for an independent investigation from Democrats and even some Republicans, although those in the GOP calling for a special prosecutor or committee had mostly already done so before the Comey firing.
“First obstruction of an investigation. Now witness intimidation from the Highest Office,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) wrote on Twitter Friday morning in response to Trump flurry of posts. “A sad moment for even this White House. Unhinged?”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif), a longtime critic of this administration, also took to Twitter to criticize the president’s early morning tweets.
"Mr. President, if there are ‘tapes’ relevant to the Comey firing, it’s because you made them and they should be provided to Congress," he posted.
Further, it has spurred talk of impeachment among Congressional Democrats even though, as the minority party in the House, they would have virtually no power to initiate such proceedings. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who had to this point been the Democrat most loudly discussing impeachment, said on MSNBC Thursday night that Trump could potentially be charged with obstruction of justice. Hours later, two more of her colleagues joined in, even as Democratic leaders have sought to tamp down impeachment talk.
"Evidence of Trump’s effort to obstruct justice continues to emerge. Lock HIM up?" Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) wrote on Twitter shortly after midnight Friday, followed by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) who took to Twitter just after 3 a.m. Eastern to write "impeachment will happen if handful of Republicans in Congress join Dems to put country above party. Or in 2019 after Dems win the House.”