Why Donald Trump — and his White House — may have finally lost all credibility
Steve Schmidt did not mince words during a Thursday night MSNBC appearance. "You have never seen the systemic, nonstop lying, nonstop prevaricating" that the Donald Trump White House presents daily, the former day-to-day leader of John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign said.
On numerous occasions over the last few days, Trump and his associates have contradicted themselves and one another, leaving the public to believe that the White House does not speak with one voice. New York University media critic and journalism professor Jay Rosen put it best in a tweet, saying, "There is no White House. There is only Trump. Plus people who work in the building."
To some degree, this is what Trump supporters said they liked about the president. He doesn't sound like a politician, the argument goes, because he says what he thinks. But what does it mean when your words sound like lies about national security?
The most contentious of the White House's claims? That Trump fired James Comey because the Justice Department suggested it.
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told CNN on Tuesday night that the president removed the FBI director at the request of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who oversees Comey. Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday that the president simply accepted "the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and attorney general" in firing Comey. And at the Wednesday press briefing, White House principal deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump moved based on the recommendation. (She did also say Trump had been "contemplating it for a while.")
On Thursday night, in an interview with NBC Nightly News' Lester Holt, the president said, "I was going to fire Comey" and that he was "going to fire regardless of recommendation." On Friday morning, he openly threatened Comey on Twitter: "James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"
This contradicted days of statements by Trump's staff. Yet the fallout from the truth could not be avoided and began even before Trump's NBC interview.
Rosenstein, angry that the blame for Comey's firing had been placed on him, threatened to resign on Wednesday. A Washington Post report from the same day beat the president to the punch by a day, citing sources who said Trump asked Rosenstein and Sessions to justify, in writing, why — not whether — Comey should be fired.
That isn't the only contradiction: In another zinger, Sanders told reporters that Comey had lost the confidence of "rank and file" agents at the FBI, which Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe denied on Thursday. Comey, he told the Senate Intelligence Committee, "enjoyed broad support within the FBI, and still does to this day."
This happened, too: Trump told NBC's Holt that the Russia investigation factored into his decision to fire Comey. The president said that, once he made his decision to fire Comey, he thought, "this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story." This is perhaps less consequential, as many assumed the investigation into Russia and Trump was a driving factor behind Comey's dismissal — but clearly a departure from the original White House narrative that Rosenstein, not Trump, pushed for Comey's dismissal.
Another contradiction: Trump said he has not spoken with longtime confidante Roger Stone "in a long time." Stone told Mic he and the president spoke last week. More from Mic's Celeste Katz.
Another soundbite from the Holt interview: Besides admitting he had been planning to fire Comey for a while, Trump also said he asked Comey whether he was under investigation. "You are not under investigation," Trump claims Comey replied. Here are three takeaways from the NBC News interview.
The president probably is under FBI investigation. That's according to a report from CBS News. Trump, in his dismissal letter to Comey, claimed the FBI director told him three times he was not under investigation. Sources told CBS that was highly unlikely, and that the White House has been trying to interfere in the FBI investigation into Trump and Russia.
NBC also cited sources saying that the conversation Trump claimed happened between him and Comey at a January dinner meeting would never have taken place. Trump said that, during the dinner, Comey assured the president he was not under investigation. In fact, the New York Times reported that during that meeting, the president asked Comey for his loyalty and the FBI director declined. He was fired on day 110 of Trump in the White House.
So what happens to the Russia investigation now? I spoke to Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal about the importance of a special prosecutor. If the Justice department does not open an independent investigation, Blumenthal, a former state attorney general, says he'll take that into his own hands. Read the story here. On that note, Rosenstein will brief senators next week on the Russia investigation and Comey's firing.
This is Mic's daily read on Donald Trump's America. Welcome to the political newsletter that just can't get enough James Comey.
What we're watching:
Today: The president said Thursday he would have fired James Comey with or without a DOJ recommendation.
More: Donald Trump also said the Russia investigation factored into his decision. And now he's threatening Comey on Twitter.
Even more: Yes, you read those right.
Yes, more: The narrative that Comey was loathed within the FBI appears to be false.
Trump's agenda today: Meeting with his national security adviser and national economic council director. Meeting with the secretary of homeland security.
What has Trump been up to since Comey's firing?
Great question. To start, he's been tweeting — specifically about the contradictory nature of his White House, which he wrote off as a byproduct of his especially "active" presidency. He's also threatened to cancel future press briefings.
On Thursday, Trump signed an executive order to target a supposed problem of voter fraud that is, in fact, virtually nonexistent nationwide. Good government and watchdog groups widely panned the order. Trump said he'll release his tax returns — after he leaves office. He met with the Russian Foreign Minister (the day after firing Comey) and was tricked by a Russian photographer. Read more on all these Trump actions from Mic.