FBI Director James Comey testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, March 1, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty

White House connects Comey firing, ‘conclusion’ of Russia probe

This was probably not a smart thing to say given the circumstances.
The White House said Thursday that removing FBI Director James Comey from his post may hasten the agency’s investigation into Russian meddling.

“We want this to come to its conclusion, we want it to come to its conclusion with integrity,” said deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders, referring to the FBI’s probe into Moscow’s interference in last year’s election. “And we think that we’ve actually, by removing Director Comey, taken steps to make that happen.”
CNN’s report characterized this as a “surprising admission from the White House that Comey’s sudden dismissal on Tuesday may have an effect on the Russia probe.”

That’s right.

In terms of the context, the White House’s contradictions reflect a degree of internal chaos. Two days ago, in a Fox News interview, Sanders, the president’s principal deputy press secretary, said the White House wants the investigation into the Russia scandal to end. “It’s time to move on,” she argued.

A day later – which is to say, yesterday – during the White House press briefing, Sanders changed direction, saying the president wants the investigation to keep going. Trump, she said, wants Justice Department officials “to continue with whatever they see appropriate and sees fit, just the same as he’s encouraged the House and Senate committees to continue any ongoing investigations.”

And today, she changed back, saying the White House wants the investigation to “come to its conclusion.”

But looking past the inconsistencies, the more serious concern is the White House linking Comey’s firing to Team Trump’s desire to see the probe end.

Indeed, Sanders’ language doesn’t lend itself to other interpretations: she said the White House wants to see the investigation “come to its conclusion,” and Donald Trump has “taken steps to make that happen” by firing the director of the FBI.

To hear the president’s spokesperson tell it, the two things are directly connected – which is deeply problematic because the White House is supposed to say they’re not related at all.

If you were a Justice Department official, how would you interpret such a message from the White House?