President Donald Trump on Friday ratcheted-up the rhetoric against fired FBI Director James Comey, issuing a warning via Twitter to Comey that he shouldn’t leak information to the media.
“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump wrote on Twitter Friday morning.
Trump fired Comey late Tuesday afternoon, a surprise move that set off a firestorm of controversy and criticism in Washington and beyond. Particularly eyebrow-raising was Trump’s assertion that he had received three separate assurances from the FBI director that he is not currently under investigation by the bureau.
“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau," Trump wrote in his letter to Comey, delivered to FBI headquarters by his longtime body guard while the director himself was actually in Los Angeles on bureau business.
That the president claimed to have spoken about an ongoing investigation with the head of the FBI struck many as inappropriate, especially given that Comey has testified under oath that the bureau is investigating not only Russian interference into last year’s presidential election but also any possible ties between individuals connected to Trump or his campaign and the Russian government.
At a congressional hearing in March, Comey refused to answer a question from Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) as to whether or not Trump himself was under investigation by the FBI. But the president, in an interview with NBC News, recalled the three occasions, once over dinner and twice over the phone, in which he asked Comey if he was under investigation, to which the FBI director, according to Trump’s retelling, said he was not.
White House officials have also suggested that Comey needed to be fired because he had lost the confidence of the FBI’s rank and file, an account disputed by the bureau’s current acting director, Andrew McCabe, as well as the heads of two organizations representing current and former FBI agents, analysts and other personnel. All three said Comey generally enjoyed overwhelming support within the bureau.
The president also got in on the act of contradicting his own communications team’s messaging, telling NBC News that had already decided to dismiss Comey when he met on Monday with the top two officials from the Justice Department.
That explanation directly contradicted the one offered up to that point by Vice President Mike Pence and other top White House spokespeople, who had said that Trump only decided to fire the FBI director on the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
In that same NBC interview, the president said he had decided to fire Comey because he was a “showboat” and a “grandstander” and also because “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story,” a reference to the FBI’s ongoing investigation into the Russian government’s campaign of cyberattacks directed at last year’s presidential election as well as into possible ties between Trump associates and the Kremlin.
Trump made no direct mention to NBC of the reasoning laid out by Rosenstein in his memo recommending Comey’s dismissal, which dealt predominantly with his unusually public handling of the bureau’s investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.