WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump had already made up his mind to fire FBI Director James Comey long before Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote up a memo to justify the decision, the president said in an interview with NBC News on Thursday.
Trump's team had repeatedly claimed that Rosenstein's memo precipitated Comey's firing. Hours after Trump fired Comey on Tuesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer blamed Rosenstein for the FBI director's dismissal. "It was all him," Spicer said, referring to Rosenstein.
But in an interview with Lester Holt on Thursday, the president revealed he'd made up his mind to fire Comey before he met with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rosenstein on Monday.
"I was going to fire Comey, my decision," Trump said. "I was going to fire Comey," he repeated, adding that there was no good time to fire someone. "I was going to fire him regardless of recommendation. He made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey."
Trump also called Comey a "showboat" and a "grandstander." Trump said the FBI had been "in turmoil" for more than a year and hadn't recovered.
The White House's claim that Rosenstein's letter and Session's recommendation had triggered Comey's firing never made much sense in the first place. Rosenstein's memo focused on how Comey publicly handled the FBI's investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Although Trump thought Comey went too easy on Clinton, Rosenstein's memo made the case that Comey's public declarations about the Clinton investigation were unfair to her.
As the initial White House narrative crumbled, the White House released a timeline conceding that Trump had been "strongly inclined" to remove Comey following his testimony before Congress last week. Then The Washington Post reported that Rosenstein threatened to quit if the White House didn't stop blaming him for the firing. A Justice Department spokeswoman denied that report.