White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked at the daily press briefing why Trump had soured on Comey, despite recent statements by Press Secretary Sean Spicer that Trump had confidence in the FBI director.
Sanders denied reports that Trump had put Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein up to recommending the firing, which caught Washington by surprise Tuesday evening. Instead, Sanders said, Rosenstein himself recommended the firing in a Monday meeting with Trump over Comey’s handling of the Clinton email scandal. The White House says that Trump then asked Rosenstein to put that recommendation into writing, which he did.
“I cannot defend the director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails,” Rosenstein wrote in his subsequent letter to Trump, “and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken. Almost everyone agrees that the director made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives.”
Trump told reporters Wednesday the decision came because Comey “was not doing a good job.” Some Democrats have expressed concern that the firing is related to the FBI’s investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Sanders said Trump had been considering letting Comey go from his role since the election, and that there had been “an erosion of confidence,” but indicated that the final straw for Rosenstein and Trump was Comey’s testimony last week before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. At that hearing, Comey answered wide-ranging questions about his controversial handling of the probe into Hillary Clinton’s private email server last year.
Sanders said Comey’s testimony showed that he had committed “atrocities in circumventing the chain of command” at the Department of Justice and said he had thrown a “stick of dynamite” by going around then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch in calling a press conference in July 2016 to announce his recommendation not to press charges against Clinton.
“When you…throw a stick of dynamite into the Department of Justice, that cannot be ignored,” Sanders said.
When a reporter at the briefing argued that there was little in Comey’s testimony that was not already widely known, Sanders said it was the first time Comey had “publicly and openly” made clear how he handled the probe.
Sanders also took a shot at Democrats complaining about Comey’s firing, saying it was the “purest form of hypocrisy” considering their frequent past criticisms of the former FBI director. She said it was “startling” that Democrats aren’t celebrating the move,
“I think it’s startling that Democrats aren’t celebrating this since they’ve been calling it for so long,” she said.