The Timeline: Trump vs. James B. Comey

From The Washington Post:

President Trump vs. James B. Comey: A timeline

 By Glenn Kessler

The Fact Checker earlier produced a timeline on the firing of Michael Flynn as President Trump’s national security adviser. Now that story has merged with Trump’s firing of FBI Director James B. Comey. Below is a new timeline, incorporating some elements of the Flynn timeline. Key aspects of the Trump and Comey interactions remain in dispute, so we will keep updating this as new information emerges.

Dec. 29, 2016
The Obama administration announces measures against Russia in retaliation for what U.S. officials characterized as interference in the 2016 election, ordering the expulsion of Russian “intelligence operatives” and slapping new sanctions on state agencies and individuals suspected in the hacks of U.S. computer systems.

Flynn, incoming national security adviser for Trump, speaks by phone with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, and discusses the sanctions and suggests the possibility of sanctions relief once Trump is president. The call is monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies.

Jan. 20, 2017
Trump takes the oath of office and becomes president.

Jan. 22
Trump singles out Comey at a White House event and hugs him: “Oh, and there’s Jim. He’s become more famous than me.”

Trump was presumably referring to Comey’s announcement, days before the election, that the FBI might have found new information in the Hillary Clinton email case. Clinton — and many other Democrats — say Comey’s announcement tipped a close election toward Trump.

Comey’s version: “He tried hard to blend into the background and avoid any one-on-one interaction. He was wearing a blue blazer and noticed that the drapes were blue. So he stood in the back, right in front of the drapes, hoping Trump wouldn’t notice him camouflaged against the wall. … Comey took the long walk across the room determined, he told me, that there was not going to be a hug. Bad enough that he was there; bad enough that there would be a handshake; he emphatically did not want any show of warmth. Again, look at the video, and you’ll see Comey preemptively reaching out to shake hands. Trump grabs his hand and attempts an embrace. The embrace, however, is entirely one sided. Comey was disgusted. He regarded the episode as a physical attempt to show closeness and warmth in a fashion calculated to compromise him before Democrats who already mistrusted him.” (Benjamin Wittes, “What James Comey Told Me About Donald Trump,” May 18.)

Jan. 24
Flynn is interviewed by the FBI about his conversations with Kislyak.

Jan. 26
Acting attorney general Sally Yates, accompanied by an aide, goes to the White House and tells White House Counsel Donald McGahn that, contrary to Flynn’s claims to White House officials, sanctions had been discussed in the calls, based on the monitoring of the conversations by intelligence agencies. She also warns that Flynn is vulnerable to blackmail.

Jan. 27
McGahn asks Yates to come to the White House again to discuss the matter further. Yates testified that he did not indicate whether he had discussed the Flynn situation with anyone else at the White House. He asked why the Justice Department would be concerned whether one White House official lied to another, she said. “Logic would tell you that you don’t want the national security adviser to be in a position where the Russians have leverage over him,” she said.

McGahn also asks to see the underlying evidence. Yates says she would work with the FBI to assemble the material, and McGahn’s review is scheduled for Jan. 30.

Jan. 27 — Trump and Comey
That night, Trump and Comey have dinner at the White House. But they disagree over who asked for the meeting.

Trump’s version: “He wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on. We had a very nice dinner at the White House. … That dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner.” (Interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, May 11)

Comey’s version: “I was at the Hoover Building on the 27th of January for another event, and spoke briefly with Director Comey. He mentioned to me the invitation he had from the president for dinner, and that he was, my characterization, uneasy with it, both from a standpoint of the optic of compromising his independence and the independence of the FBI.” (Interview of James R. Clapper Jr., former director of national intelligence, on CNN, May 14)

At the dinner, Trump reportedly asks Comey for his loyalty, according to news reports.

Comey’s version: “He did tell me in general terms that early on, Trump had ‘asked for loyalty’ and that Comey had promised him only honesty. He also told me that Trump was perceptibly uncomfortable with this answer. And he said that ever since, the President had been trying to be chummy in a fashion that Comey felt was designed to absorb him into Trump’s world — to make him part of the team.” (Wittes, May 18)

Trump’s version: I didn’t, but I don’t think it would be a bad question to ask. I think loyalty to the country, loyalty to the United States is important. You know, I mean it depends on how you define loyalty. Number one. Number two, I don’t know how that got there, because I didn’t ask that question.” (Interview on Fox News with Jeanine Pirro, May 12)

Jan. 30
Trump fires Yates, allegedly over an unrelated matter — her conclusion that Trump’s executive order barring travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries was “unlawful.” The executive order is later blocked by the courts.

Feb. 13
The Washington Post reports that the White House had known for weeks that Flynn had misled people about the nature of the Kislyak calls. Flynn is forced to resign within hours after the article is posted. White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Feb. 14 said Flynn was let go because he no longer had the trust of the president and vice president.

Feb. 14 — Trump and Comey
In an Oval Office meeting, Trump asks Comey to end the investigation of Flynn, according to a memo that Comey wrote. The New York Times reported that Trump told Comey: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Trump added that Flynn had done nothing wrong.

Comey only replied, ‘I agree he is a good guy,” the memo said.

The White House said the memo did not provide a “truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation.” Trump also denied he asked Comey to ease up on the investigation.

March 4
In a tweet, Trump claims without evidence that President Barack Obama had tapped his phones during the election campaign. A day later, news reports say Comey asked the Justice Department to publicly reject Trump’s claim. But no action is taken.

March 20
In congressional testimony, Comey said he has been cleared by the Justice Department to say there is “no information” to support Trump’s claim about wiretaps. He also told Congress the FBI was investigating “the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”

After Comey’s testimony, The Washington Post reported, Trump separately asked two of the nation’s top intelligence officials — Daniel Coats, director of national intelligence, and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, director of the National Security Agency — to help him push back against the FBI investigation. He urged them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election, but both officials refused, believing the request was inappropriate.

May 2
Trump knocks Comey on Twitter.

May 3
Comey tells Congress: “It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election.” He offers a defense of his actions in the Hillary Clinton case and indicates the Russian investigation is continuing.

May 8
Trump tells Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein that he wants to fire Comey. Rosenstein crafts a memo that faults Comey for his handling of the Clinton case, although he has refused to say whether anyone asked him to write the memo. The White House originally cited the memo as justification for the firing but then later backed off that explanation after Rosenstein complained.

May 9
Comey is fired. In his note to Comey, Trump says, “I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.” Persons close to Comey have insisted he never gave Trump such assurances.

May 10
Trump meets with Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak. “I just fired the head of the F.B.I.,” Trump says, according to a White House summary of the conversation. “He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Trump adds: “I’m not under investigation.”

May 17
Rosenstein appoints a special counsel, former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III, to oversee the Russia probe and investigate any related matters, such as obstruction of justice and perjury.

Thank you The Washington Post & Glenn Kessler


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