Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Politics

Trump contradicts White House on reasons for firing 'showboat' and 'grandstander' Comey

WASHINGTON — Contradicting previous White House explanations, President Donald Trump has declared he had planned to fire FBI Director James Comey all along, regardless of whether top Justice Department officials recommended the stunning step. His assertions came as Comey's temporary replacement joined in, contradicting other administration statements on the snowballing controversy.

In an interview with NBC News, Trump also said he'd asked Comey point-blank if he was under investigation and was assured three times he was not. Trump showed no concern that the request might be viewed as interference in an active FBI probe into his 2016 campaign's possible ties to Russia's election meddling.

"I said, 'If it's possible, would you let me know, am I under investigation?' He said you are not under investigation," Trump said. He said the discussions happened in two phone calls and at a dinner in which Comey was asking to keep his job.

Comey has not confirmed Trump's account.

The New York Times late Thursday cited two unnamed Comey associates who recounted his tale of a January dinner with the president in which Trump asked for a pledge of loyalty. Comey declined, instead offering "honesty." When Trump then pressed for "honest loyalty," Comey told the president, "You will have that," said the associates, who told the newspaper they agreed to keep the story confidential while Comey was FBI director.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders disputed the report and said the president would "never even suggest the expectation of personal loyalty."

But the account echoed wording in a comment made a day earlier to The Associated Press by longtime Comey friend Daniel Richman, a former federal prosecutor, who said the president had removed "somebody unwilling to pledge absolute loyalty to him."

The White House initially cited a Justice Department memo criticizing Comey's handling of last year's investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails as the impetus for Trump's decision. But Trump on Thursday acknowledged for the first time that the Russia investigation — which he dismissed as a "made-up story" — was also on his mind as he ousted the man overseeing the probe.

The shifting accounts of the decision to fire Comey, whom Trump derided as a "showboat" and "grandstander," added to a mounting sense of uncertainty and chaos in the West Wing, as aides scrambled to get their stories straight and appease an angry president. Not even Vice President Mike Pence was spared the embarrassment of having told a version of events that was later discredited by Trump.

The White House's explanations continued to crumble throughout the day Thursday. On Capitol Hill, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe strongly disputed the White House's assertion that Comey had been fired in part because he had lost the confidence of the FBI's rank-and-file.

"That is not accurate," McCabe said. "Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day."

Unfazed, Sanders insisted she had heard from "countless" members of the FBI who welcomed the president's decision.

McCabe also pointed out the remarkable nature of Trump's version of his conversations with Comey. McCabe told a Senate panel it was not "standard practice" to tell an individual whether they are or are not under investigation.

Previous presidents have made a public show of staying out of legal matters, so as not to appear to be injecting politics. Trump's comments demonstrated his striking deviation from that practice.

The ousted director himself is said to be confident that his own version of events will come out, possibly in an appearance before Congress, according to an associate who has been in touch with him since his firing Tuesday.

Trump and Comey's relationship was strained early on, in part because of the president's explosive and unsubstantiated claims that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. Comey found the allegations confounding, according to his associate, and wondered what to make of what he described as strange thoughts coming from his new boss.

The president was no kinder to Comey on Thursday, calling him names and saying he'd left the FBI in "virtual turmoil." He said that while he received a scathing assessment of Comey's performance from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Monday, that memo was not a catalyst for his dramatic decision as the White House had said earlier.

"I was going to fire Comey," Trump said. "Regardless of recommendation I was going to fire Comey."

That's far different that the White House's initial account in the hours after Comey's firing. Multiple officials, including Pence, said the president was acting at the behest of Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

But it quickly became clear that the president had been stewing for days over the Russia investigation and Comey's refusal to defend him in appearances before lawmakers. By Wednesday afternoon, the officials, like Trump, were saying he had in fact been considering ousting the FBI director for months because of a lack of confidence in his ability to lead the agency.

And the Russia investigation was still on his mind.

"In fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won," he said.

Sanders attributed the disconnect in the week's explanations to the fact that she had not directly asked Trump when he'd made the decision to fire Comey until shortly before Thursday's press briefing.

White House officials and others insisted on anonymity in order to disclose private conversations and internal deliberations.

The White House said Trump is weighing options for replacing Comey, a decision that could have broad implications for the future of the Russia investigation. Some senior officials have discussed nominating Rep. Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who ran the House committee that investigated Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's actions in connection with the 2012 attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya.

Trump's advisers have repeatedly tried to downplay the Russia-election matter, with Sanders saying Wednesday the FBI was "doing a whole lot more than the Russia investigation."

But McCabe characterized the investigation as "highly significant" and assured senators that Comey's firing would not hinder it. He promised he would tolerate no interference from the White House and would not provide the administration with updates on its progress.

"You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing," he declared. He said there has been no interference so far.

Comments

Pasco Political Notebook for Aug. 17

Republican Club hosts candidate forum at meetingThe West Pasco Republican Club will host an "Election Extravaganza" candidate forum at its meeting Aug. 21 at Heritage Springs Country Club, 11345 Robert Trent Jones Parkway, Trinity. A social time will...
Published: 08/13/18
Early voting in Pasco: Here’s what to remember when you head to the polls

Early voting in Pasco: Here’s what to remember when you head to the polls

Early voting Pasco County begins Saturday and runs through Aug. 25, with 11 locations across the county for voters.Polls are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 20-24, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Aug...
Published: 08/13/18
Largo election cancelled as incumbents stay with no opposition

Largo election cancelled as incumbents stay with no opposition

LARGO — There will be no suspense in the city when elections arrive Nov. 6. In fact, there will be no election at all, because all four city commissioners whose seats were up were re-elected by default when no one came forward by the end of the candi...
Published: 08/13/18
Florida candidate tried to prove she’s a college graduate. The school says her diploma is fake.

Florida candidate tried to prove she’s a college graduate. The school says her diploma is fake.

The political kerfuffle around Melissa Howard began when a news site reported that the Florida state House hopeful is not a college graduate, as she claims to be. To prove the story wrong, Howard, R, reportedly flew to her proclaimed alma mater, Ohio...
Published: 08/12/18
Romano: Two years later, politicians still ignoring Florida voters on medical marijuana

Romano: Two years later, politicians still ignoring Florida voters on medical marijuana

The war is over, except no one in Tallahassee has bothered to read the news.And so Florida continues its daft fight against medical marijuana. All of which means patients are being left behind, voters are getting ignored, and lawyers are buying fanci...
Published: 08/11/18
Hillsborough, tops in state for drug-addicted babies, will file suit against opioid makers

Hillsborough, tops in state for drug-addicted babies, will file suit against opioid makers

TAMPA — Hillsborough County plans to file a lawsuit next week against companies that manufacture opioid drugs, alleging that aggressive marketing of painkillers worsened the opioid crisis.The county joins a number of other local governments nationwid...
Published: 08/10/18
Ex-aide Omarosa says she refused hush money, pens White House memoir calling Trump racist

Ex-aide Omarosa says she refused hush money, pens White House memoir calling Trump racist

WASHINGTON — Omarosa Manigault Newman was offered a $15,000-a-month contract from President Donald Trump’s campaign to stay silent after being fired from her job as a White House aide by Chief of Staff John Kelly last December, according to a forthco...
Published: 08/10/18
Carlton: Sorry, Gov. Scott, but college students can early vote after all. Hey, USF, talking to you here...

Carlton: Sorry, Gov. Scott, but college students can early vote after all. Hey, USF, talking to you here...

Good news, at least for those of us who keep believing in that old-fashioned notion that voting should be open and accessible to everyone who’s qualified.Even if they’re, say, young voters. And even if certain politicians do not like the direction in...
Published: 08/10/18
Sheriff finds himself at center of political stand your ground storm

Sheriff finds himself at center of political stand your ground storm

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has never been one to shy away from tough decisions.He’s also not known to back off from explaining them publicly.So his 30-minute and 55-minute news conferences to talk about why he didn’t arrest Michael Drejka ...
Published: 08/09/18
Updated: 08/10/18
Retired attorney and businesswoman challenge two-term Hernando commissioner

Retired attorney and businesswoman challenge two-term Hernando commissioner

BROOKSVILLE — As the District 2 Hernando County commissioner, Wayne Dukes hopes his public service over the past eight years has earned him another term on the board. But two other Republicans on the ballot for the Aug. 28 primary election would like...
Published: 08/09/18
Updated: 08/10/18