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The White House press briefings during the Trump era have become major events on cable news, but President Trump is now threatening to cancel them as his own spokespeople struggle to keep up with his narrative for firing James Comey as FBI director.
Trump argued on Twitter Friday that it’s unreasonable to expect “perfect accuracy” from his White House press office because he’s “a very active president with lots of things happening.”
Thanks to this supposedly high bar, Trump suggested it might be worthwhile to call off all future White House press briefings and instead hand out written responses to make sure they are accurate.
This was an apparent reference to Wednesday’s press briefing, where White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump fired Comey at the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
And she wasn’t alone. This version of events conforms to what Trump wrote in his letter dismissing Comey. Vice President Mike Pence and Spicer had also cited Rosenstein as the driving force behind the decision.
Trump promptly contradicted this sequence of events the following day in an interview with NBC News by saying that he intended to fire Comey regardless of Rosenstein’s opinion.
“What I did was I was going to fire Comey. My decision,” Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt. “There’s no good time to do it, by the way. I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.”
Shortly after the interview was published, Jonathan Karl, the chief White House correspondent for ABC News, asked Sanders if she, Spicer and Pence had been “left in the dark” about Trump’s decision making or had been misled. Trump’s spokeswoman replied by saying she hadn’t spoken to Trump about when he decided to fire Comey.
“I think it’s pretty simple. I hadn’t had a chance to have the conversation directly with the president. I had several conversations with him, but I didn’t ask that question directly: ‘Had you already made that decision?’ I went off of the information that I had when I answered your question.”
Sanders, the daughter of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, said she has since had that conversation with Trump, and he laid out his decision-making process clearly.
“He had already made that decision. He’d been thinking about it for months, which I did say yesterday and have said many times since,” she said.
Sanders again suggested that any Democrats critical of Trump’s decision are hypocrites because they would have welcomed Comey’s termination if it had come from a hypothetical President Hillary Clinton. She dismissed the notion that White House staff presented contradictory storylines as mere semantics.
But Democrats argue that they are concerned that Trump dismissed Comey in order to quash the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and whether any Trump associates are involved. Shortly before Trump fired Comey, the president tweeted, “The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?”
Sanders insisted that Comey was terminated because he mishandled the investigation into Clinton’s email server — an inquiry that Trump cheered during the campaign.
It’s somewhat ironic that Trump proposed written statements for the sake of accuracy because a statement from the White House Press Office on Tuesday evening supported what Sanders said during the initial briefing.
“President Trump acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions,” the statement read.
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