President Trump took on the media and James Comey in a string of fiery tweets Friday morning, warning the ousted FBI director not to leak details of their conversations while suggesting he could cancel future press briefings -- in response to the media uproar over his team's changing narrative on Comey's firing.
In doing so, the president also gave cover to his embattled representatives who have scrambled to reconcile the president's recent statements and the administration's original explanation.
“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. “Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future "press briefings" and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”
Trump then fired a shot across the bow at his terminated ex-top cop: "James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"
This comes as details from a supposedly private dinner conversation between Trump and Comey emerged in The New York Times.
As for Trump's warning to the press, he was responding to coverage of his claim to NBC News that he was going to fire Comey regardless of any recommendation from his team -- in spite of prior claims suggesting otherwise.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday night said Trump fired Comey after receiving a written recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, along with a letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions. That memo cited Comey’s mishandling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s secret email server as the primary reason for his firing.
“That was a DOJ decision,” Spicer said.
Vice President Pence, speaking at the Capitol on Wednesday, also pinned the impetus for the firing on Rosenstein and Sessions.
“Let me be very clear that the President’s decision to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to remove Director Comey as the head of the FBI was based solely and exclusively on his commitment to the best interests of the American people and to ensuring that the FBI has the trust and confidence of the people of this nation,” Pence said.
Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also said on Wednesday that Trump was merely following the guidance of his top advisers.
“I think it’s real simple,” Sanders told MSNBC. “The Deputy Attorney General…made a very strong recommendation. The president followed it and he made a quick and decisive action to fire James Comey.”
But Trump blew up that narrative on his own Thursday during his sit-down interview with NBC. During a conversation in which Trump said Comey was a “showboat” and “grandstander,” he was also clear he had made up his mind to fire Comey long ago, no matter what Rosenstein and Sessions told him.
“I was going to fire regardless of recommendation,” Trump said.
That interview aired less than an hour before Sanders took the podium at the White House press briefing to face a hostile group, upset that what they were told on Wednesday was not the same as what Trump said Thursday. Sanders denied the information she previously supplied was inaccurate and contended the narratives actually matched closely. She also said the White House had not been trying to pin Comey’s firing on Rosenstein.
Trump’s apparent explanation shift to NBC News has only stoked the battle on Capitol Hill over Comey’s firing.
Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats on Thursday cited the shift in asking DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz to probe Trump’s firing. They noted that Trump originally cited the memo from Rosenstein in his dismissal of Comey. However, the Democrats’ letter cited reports that the White House and Justice Department had been working to build a case against Comey, and Trump’s own statement to NBC News that he was “going to fire Comey” regardless of any recommendation.
“We believe these circumstances merit a thorough review, and we urge you to address this matter with the utmost urgency. We look forward to your review and a report on your findings,” they wrote.
Rosenstein, meanwhile, is being invited to brief all senators as early as next week.