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Team Trump embraces conspiracy theory about year-old interview

A national television audience saw Trump say he fired James Comey because of the Russia investigation. We're now apparently supposed to believe something else.
President Donald Trump is interviewed by Lester Holt.
President Donald Trump is interviewed by Lester Holt.

On May 9, 2017, Donald Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing the investigation into the Russia scandal. Two days later, the president spoke with NBC News' Lester Holt at the White House and said Comey's ouster was driven by Trump's opposition to the probe.

"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," the president explained at the time.

Trump's claims didn't just contradict his own White House's official line on Comey's ouster, he also seemed to admit that his decision was directly related to the investigation into the Russia scandal, reinforcing concerns that the president may have obstructed justice when he fired the FBI director.

Three weeks ago, however, he dramatically changed course. Trump published a tweet that said, "When Lester Holt got caught fudging my tape on Russia, they were hurt badly!" (In context, "they" appeared to refer to NBC News, not the Russians.) It was the first time in the 15 months that followed the interview in which he'd taken issue with the exchange.

Last night, Jay Sekulow, a member of the president's legal defense team, spoke to CNN's Chris Cuomo, and echoed the claim.

"There is actually a transcript of the entire Lester Holt interview. And as you know -- because you do TV and you do a good job -- you know that when there are interviews, there are edits and there is a longer transcript."And I will just tell you without disclosing any detail that when you review the entire transcript, it is very clear as to what happened. And I'm not going to give you information on how we provided it, but in our professional discussions with the office of special counsel, we have addressed that on multiple occasions appropriately."

Sekulow added, "The entire transcript without question supports the president."

As we discussed when Trump first started pushing this line, it's easy to understand why the president and his backers would find Trump's on-air comments problematic. At face value, he appeared to tell a national television audience that he fired the director of the FBI in order to help derail an ongoing federal investigation into his political operation.

Now, evidently, we're supposed to believe the interview that much of the country saw last year was edited in some kind of misleading way.

Among the many questions:

* What is it, exactly, that Trump supposedly said in the interview that the public didn't hear?

* If there's exculpatory evidence in the form of a transcript, wouldn't Sekulow and his colleagues want the public to see it?

* If the president genuinely believes the recording was "fudged," why did he say nothing for 15 months? Even after the firestorm of controversy that erupted after the NBC News interview aired?

* Does Team Trump intend to offer some kind of evidence to support these accusations?

* If we're now supposed to believe Trump didn't fire Comey over the Russia scandal, why did Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also tell reporters that by firing Comey, the White House had "taken steps" to end the investigation into the Russia scandal? For that matter, why did Trump also tell Russian visitors to the Oval Office that the Comey firing relieved "pressure" he was feeling from the scandal.?

Inquiring minds want to know.