NBC News reported last week that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is focused on possible obstruction-of-justice allegations against Donald Trump, with investigators collecting information on four specific areas of interest. At the top of the list: the president’s intent when he fired former FBI Director James Comey.
It’s against this backdrop that Trump decided to change his story a bit this morning, publishing this tweet:
“Slippery James Comey, the worst FBI Director in history, was not fired because of the phony Russia investigation where, by the way, there was NO COLLUSION (except by the Dems)!”
Some of this is obviously just garden-variety nonsense. There is, for example, all kinds of evidence of cooperation between Trump’s political operation and Russia during Russia’s 2016 attack on the American elections. There is also no evidence of collusion between Putin’s government and Democrats – the party Moscow took steps to defeat.
But what matters this morning is the American president’s newfound belief that Comey’s firing was unrelated to the Russia scandal. We know this claim isn’t true – because Donald Trump has already told us the opposite.
I realize memories are often short, but they’re not that short. The president sat down with NBC News’ Lester Holt last May – one of the last interviews Trump did with a major independent news organization – and freely admitted he was motivated by concerns about the Russia scandal when he decided to oust Comey from his FBI post.
“[W]hen I decided to just do it [fire Comey], I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story,” Trump said in May 2017.
About the same time as the interview, Sarah Huckabee Sanders also told reporters that by firing Comey, the White House had “taken steps” to end the investigation into the Russia scandal. [Update: Trump also told Russian visitors that the Comey firing relieved “pressure” he was feeling from the scandal.]
There’s ample room for discussion about why Trump is playing make-believe this morning. Maybe the president thinks he can gaslight the public. Perhaps he sees this as a bold new legal strategy to avoid obstruction charges. Maybe he’s convinced himself of an alternate reality in which he didn’t appear to admit to obstruction during a nationally televised interview.
But ultimately, the “why” is less important than the “what.” As of this morning, Trump appears to be brazenly lying about why he fired the director of the FBI – which generally isn’t the sort of thing innocent people, confident of a full exoneration, are inclined to do.