Eye on 45

CN&R’s biweekly rundown of news out of the Trump White House and Congress

James Comey

James Comey

Photo by rich Girard via flickr

The White House’s evolving narrative of the firing of FBI Director James Comey is the central thread of the last two weeks in our eighth installment of this feature.

May 3: During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Comey defends his decision to, shortly before Election Day, tell Congress the agency had reopened an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Later the same day, the president’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, tells the White House press corps that Trump is still confident in Comey.

May 4: House Republicans, including District 1 Rep. Doug LaMalfa, narrowly pass the second incarnation of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. According to The New York Times, the aye votes were cast without the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the bill’s “cost or impact.”

The same day, the bill receives widespread criticism from industry groups representing insurers, hospitals, doctors and nurses, along with several prominent consumer groups such as the Main Street Alliance, an organization representing small-business owners.

Also on the same day, President Trump tweets about Australia’s health care—a mix of private and government-run options (aka universal health care)—being better than America’s. “Of course the Australians have better healthcare than we do—everybody does,” he wrote.

May 5: Congressman Raul Labrador, a Utah Republican, draws fire nationwide after saying, “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.” His comment, during a town hall in his home state, followed his aye vote a day earlier on the AHCA. Should the bill become law, it will increase the number of uninsured Americans to 24 million over the next decade, according to Congressional Budget Office.

May 8: The New York Times reports that, back in November, then-President Obama cautioned then-President Elect Trump against bringing aboard retired Gen. Michael Flynn.

Trump ignored that advice, hired the former military man as his director of national security, and ended up dismissing Flynn after he’d served just more than three weeks on the job. That move came after news reports that Flynn had met in private with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, and lied to Vice President Mike Pence about it. Later, members of the House Oversight Committee reported that Flynn did not follow laws related to disclosure of payments from foreign governments—Russia and Turkey.

The same day, former Attorney General Sally Yates, whom Trump fired, reveals to a Senate Judiciary subcommittee that she went to the White House shortly after Trump took office to warn the president that Flynn had lied to Pence and that she was concerned doing so had made him vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians. However, despite those concerns for national security, Trump kept Flynn aboard until news reports surfaced about him misleading the vice president.

May 9: The New York Times reports that Trump fired Comey, the chief of the agency investigating whether the president’s top aides colluded with Russia in that country’s efforts to elect the New York-based businessman.

Following news that his boss had suddenly fired Comey, Spicer, the embattled White House press secretary, reportedly hides behind a hedge as his staff scrambles for answers to reporters’ questions as to why.

According to a statement later drafted by Spicer’s office, Comey’s dismissal was based on “clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.” The rationale was that Comey improperly handled the investigation into Clinton’s emails—specifically, his decision to publicly talk about the case, including allegations of shared classified info.

However, Trump’s own words in his memo firing Comey have cemented criticism from both parties that the move was related to the Russia investigation. “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 said in a signed statement.

May 10: The day after firing Comey, Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top diplomats in the Oval Office. Also welcomed into that hallowed space was a photographer working for a Kremlin-owned news agency, an unprecedented level of access widely criticized by former U.S. intelligence officials, reports The Washington Post.

The same day, the Post reports that Rosenstein, unhappy with the White House’s narrative that Trump used his recommendation as the chief reason to oust Comey, threatened to resign.

May 11: Andrew McCabe, the head of the FBI following Comey’s dismissal, tells the Senate Intelligence Committee that his former boss had not lost the confidence of the agency’s rank-and-file agents, a narrative implied by the White House. Meanwhile, Trump, calling Comey a “showboat” and “grandstander,” tells NBC’s Lester Holt that he was planning to fire Comey regardless of the recommendations of the deputy attorney general and attorney general, despite the latter having previously recused himself from all matters relating to the campaign.

May 12: In a tweet, Trump threatens to not hold press briefings and instead “hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy.” The same day, in another tweet, he threatens Comey: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

In addition, The New York Times reports that, shortly after Trump was sworn into office, he had dinner with Comey and asked for his loyalty. Comey reportedly would not make that promise.

May 15: Rosenstein agrees to brief the Senate on Comey’s firing during a private meeting on May 18, reports The Washington Post.

The same day, the Post reports that Trump had shared highly classified information regarding ISIS with the Russians during the meeting in the Oval Office.

May 16: The New York Times reports that, back in February, Trump asked Comey to end an investigation into Flynn, the embattled former national security director.