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Did Trump Fire Comey Over the Russia Inquiry or Not?

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By LINDA QIU, The New York Times

WHAT WAS SAID

THE FACTS

This requires context.

Mr. Trump and his aides have given a number of conflicting reasons — sometimes within hours of each other or even in the same interview — for why he fired Mr. Comey from his position as F.B.I. director on May 9, 2017. At the time, Mr. Comey was leading the investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign had coordinated with Russian election meddling.

Initially, the White House cited a recommendation from Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who criticized Mr. Comey’s handling of the conclusion of a separate investigation into whether Hillary Clinton mishandled classified emails.

On May 10, 2017, Mr. Trump informed Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting that he had fired Mr. Comey. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off,” Mr. Trump told the Russians, as The New York Times has reported.

And in an NBC News interview that was broadcast on May 11, 2017, Mr. Trump said he had made up his mind to fire Mr. Comey — even before Mr. Rosenstein’s recommendation — at least partly because of the Russia investigation:

“But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it And 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’ve won.”

However, in that same interview with the NBC News anchor Lester Holt, Mr. Trump also said Mr. Comey was fired because of his incompetence — a decision the president acknowledged could drag out the Russia investigation:

“As far as I’m concerned, I want that thing to be absolutely done properly. When I did this now, I said I probably maybe will confuse people. Maybe I’ll expand that — you know, I’ll lengthen the time because it should be over with. It should — in my opinion, should’ve been over with a long time ago because it — all it is an excuse. But I said to myself I might even lengthen out the investigation. But I have to do the right thing for the American people. He’s the wrong man for that position.”

A few months later, Mr. Trump again said he would have fired Mr. Comey regardless of Mr. Rosenstein’s recommendation. “Now, perhaps I would have fired Comey anyway, and it certainly didn’t hurt to have the letter, O.K. But he gives me a very strong letter, and now he’s involved in the case,” the president said in a July 2017 interview with The Times.

Then, in a January 2018 interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Trump said he fired Mr. Comey because “the F.B.I. was a mess” and “everybody wanted Comey fired.”

Mr. Trump’s aides also have given conflicting reasons for Mr. Comey’s firing.

In a May 2 interview with Fox News, Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, said the former F.B.I. director was fired because he would not say Mr. Trump was not under investigation:

“He fired Comey because Comey would not, among other things, say that he wasn’t a target of the investigation. He’s entitled to that. Hillary Clinton got that. Actually, he couldn’t get that. So, he fired him and he said, I’m free of the guy, and he went on Lester Holt. Lester Holt’s interview was as good as anybody could do, better than I think any of the people around Mueller could have done, and Lester Holt asked them, why did you do it? He said, I did it because I felt that I had to explain to the American people the president was not the target of the investigation.”

But a day later, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, contradicted Mr. Giuliani and again cited Mr. Comey’s “lying, leaking and politicizing the F.B.I.”

The president’s Thursday tweet follows a report published on Wednesday in The Times, about an F.B.I. memo outlining the conversations that led to Mr. Comey’s firing. That memo was written by Andrew G. McCabe, who became acting director of the F.B.I. after Mr. Comey was dismissed.

In the memo, Mr. McCabe described a meeting at the Justice Department during which Mr. Rosenstein said the president had originally asked him to reference Russia in his memo. As The Times reported:

One person who was briefed on Mr. Rosenstein’s conversation with the president said Mr. Trump had simply wanted Mr. Rosenstein to mention that he was not personally under investigation in the Russia inquiry. Mr. Rosenstein said it was unnecessary and did not include such a reference. Mr. Trump ultimately said it himself when announcing the firing.

Mr. McCabe was fired in March from the F.B.I., where he had most recently served as deputy director.

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