When President Trump ousted James Comey from the helm of the FBI last May, it triggered a political cataclysm – with charges flying of obstruction of justice and the appointment soon after of a special counsel who’s since brought charges against numerous Trump associates.
But in a newly published interview, former chief of staff Reince Priebus said Trump was considering firing the FBI director from “Day One,” weary of his “soap opera” approach to investigations.
“He had thought about getting rid of Comey weeks before the inauguration,” Priebus told journalist Chris Whipple for an updated version of his book, "The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency.” “It wasn’t just a subject that came up out of the blue. The president had been wrestling with this from Day One.”
Fox News obtained an advance copy of the book, due out in early March. An adapted passage of “The Gatekeepers” was published last week in Vanity Fair, but did not include the Comey comments.
In the new chapter on the Trump administration, Priebus and others shed light on how Trump arrived at what some consider the most fateful moment of his presidency so far.
Priebus told Whipple that Trump’s issue with Comey had more to do with his alleged showboating than the Russia investigation (though the book notes it was Comey who briefed the new president on the controversial dossier containing salacious and unverified allegations against him).
“I’m just telling you I know what he thinks,” Priebus said. “It’s not the fact that they’re having an investigation on the Russia stuff—although he hates that. But what he hated even more is that he believes Comey takes a normal investigation and turns it into a daily soap opera.”
'It wasn’t just a subject that came up out of the blue. The president had been wrestling with this from Day One.'
Comey, who surely will have scores to settle in a forthcoming book of his own, has been battered by both Trump and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton ever since Trump’s upset win.
Clinton continues to partially blame Comey for her loss, citing his decision to announce the bureau was revisiting her email investigation in the final days of the race, only to close it.
Priebus said the final straw for Trump came after Comey’s Senate Judiciary Committee testimony in early May 2017. Whipple’s account points to Comey’s comment during that hearing that he felt “mildly nauseous” at the notion he could have swayed the 2016 election.
“That’s when it got kicked into high gear,” an unnamed Trump confidant was quoted saying.
According to that source, Trump came back from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., and said, “We have to get rid of Comey.”
Trump reportedly was resolute, saying: “I’m doing this, so don’t try to talk me out of it.”
The book, and passage published last week in Vanity Fair, describes the ensuing chaos at the White House, with Priebus and others trying to stall the firing to no avail. According to the account, Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided to resign, but Priebus confronted him and pleaded with him not to.
According to Whipple, Sessions delivered a resignation letter, but Priebus said he convinced Trump to return it.
Sessions’ resignation threat, which apparently followed a humiliating dressing-down by the president, had emerged in published reports before, though not in this level of detail.
Amid a present-day firestorm over White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s handling of Rob Porter – the staff secretary who resigned earlier this month following allegations of domestic abuse – the book also includes some revealing comments from former chief strategist Steve Bannon about the man who ultimately replaced Priebus.
While much has been written about Kelly’s job being in danger amid the Porter fiasco, Bannon suggested the president’s late father – and his late father’s expectations for his own son – are embodied in the retired general.
“Kelly is Fred Trump talking from beyond the grave to his son,” Bannon told Whipple for the book. “John Kelly is the man Fred Trump always wanted Donald Trump to be. Gary Cooper—no brag, just the facts, no self-promotion, an American hero.”