The firing of James B. Comey as director of the FBI has left the credibility of President Trump’s White House in tatters. The White House now appears to be an institution where truth struggles to keep up with events, led by a president capable at any moment of undercutting those who serve him.
This past week wasn’t the first time that the president’s spokespeople have been asked to explain the inexplicable or defend the indefensible. But what it showed is that this is far more than a problem with the White House communications team, which initially bore the brunt of criticism for offering what turned out to be an inaccurate description of how the president came to dismiss Comey. Whether the communications team is or isn’t fully in the loop is not the pertinent issue.
Instead, the responsibility for what has been one of the most explosive weeks of the Trump presidency begins at the top, with the president, whose statements and tweets regularly shatter whatever plans have been laid for the day or week.
It includes Vice President Pence, who in an appearance on Capitol Hill quadrupled down on what turned out to be, at its most benign interpretation, an incomplete and therefore misleading description of how the decision was made. It includes White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who must try to bring discipline to White House operations in the face of a president with a practice of frustrating those efforts and who then blames others when things go bad.
For Pence, this is the second time in four months that he has gone out in public with a description of events that turned out not to be fully accurate. In January, he was flat-out wrong when he vouched for Michael Flynn about whether the then-national security adviser had discussed sanctions against Russia in a telephone call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. In that case, Pence repeated what Flynn had told him when Flynn was not telling him the truth. Chalk that up to misplaced confidence in an untrustworthy colleague who is now in legal jeopardy.
On Wednesday, Pence did something different. He went to Capitol Hill and in a brief scrum with reporters described the decision-making process that led to Comey’s dismissal as one that originated at the Justice Department and moved up to the chain of command to the president for action. This wasn’t a statement made in passing. Four different times he pointed to the Justice Department as the catalyst and cited Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein’s memo critiquing Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state as being critically influential.
As Pence explained it, Rosenstein recently “came in [to the Justice Department], sat down and made the recommendation for the FBI to be able to do its job that it would need new leadership. He brought that recommendation to the president. The attorney general [Jeff Sessions] concurred with that recommendation.” Pence said the president’s role was to act on that recommendation, saying Trump provided “strong and decisive leadership” in following the Justice Department’s advice.
Everyone now knows there was much more to the sequence of events, based on reporting by news organizations. The Post, citing many sources, reported that the president had told his senior staff Monday morning he wanted to move against Comey — hours before his meeting with Rosenstein and Sessions. On Thursday, the president told NBC’s Lester Holt he had made up his mind to fire Comey before he heard from the Justice Department and that, no matter what Sessions and Rosenstein recommended, he was going to do so.
Much more here.