One of President Donald Trump’s most controversial advisers helped him draft a letter to FBI Director James Comey in May explaining why he was being fired, but the White House counsel thought the letter was problematic and ultimately blocked it from being sent.
FBI special counsel Robert Mueller obtained the letter, according to The New York Times, likely as part of his ongoing efforts to determine whether Trump sought to obstruct the course of the bureau’s Russia investigation when he fired Comey in May.
It is not clear how much of the letter, if any of it, referred to the Russia probe. The Times reported on the existence of the letter on Friday, but did not appear to have obtained a copy of the letter itself.
Stephen Miller, Trump’s policy adviser and an ally of former chief strategist Steve Bannon, helped draft the letter, the Times said. Miller has emerged as a hardline and exceedingly loyal player in the Trump administration. Given Trump’s displeasure with Comey leading up to his firing, it is likely that Miller helped Trump draft a letter that appealed to his more incendiary instincts.
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Trump’s legal team was trying to fend off an obstruction of justice charge by Mueller’s investigators by arguing that the president has the authority to fire whomever he wants, and that Comey — who told the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this summer that Trump pressured him to lay off Flynn — is an unreliable witness.
Trump tweeted about Comey again Friday, criticising his reported decision to end the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server before she was interviewed by the FBI.
“The system is rigged,” Trump wrote of the news.
The administration’s botched explanation for Comey’s dismissal — which shifted in the days afterward and was ultimately undermined by Trump himself — has persisted as one of the more damaging missteps of the White House’s early months.
White House counsel Don McGahn prevented Trump from sending the letter he wanted to dispatch, according to the Times — so Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein were enlisted to provide the justification for Comey’s firing instead.
The letters they wrote outlining Comey’s mishandling of the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state were initially presented as the impetus for his dismissal. Then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters at first that the Department of Justice — specifically Rosenstein — had determined Comey needed to go because of how he handled that probe.
In an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt two days later, however, Trump acknowledged that he was going to fire Comey “regardless” of the recommendations given to him by Rosenstein and Sessions. He called Comey “a showboat” and “a grandstander” and said he fired the director because the FBI was in “turmoil.” (Acting Director Andrew McCabe late denied that the bureau had lost faith in Comey before he was fired.)
Trump made his displeasure with Comey clear even before the director testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee just prior to his firing. Trump said in tweets the night before the hearing that Comey “was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds. The phony … Trump/Russia story was an excuse used by the Democrats as justification for losing the election. Perhaps Trump just ran a great campaign?”
The next day, Comey confirmed in the open — and televised — hearing that the FBI was still investigating whether there was “any coordination” between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Comey had not allowed the White House to preview his testimony, which Trump and his aides considered “an act of insubordination,” according to Reuters. The New York Times echoed that report, saying Trump was broadly irked by his inability to gain assurances of loyalty from Comey.
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