When Donald Trump gets talking, no one, possibly not even the president, is sure what is going to come out. In an interview with the New York Times’ Peter Baker, Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, Trump made the astounding claim that he wouldn’t have appointed his political stalwart, Jeff Sessions, as Attorney General if he knew that he was going to recuse himself in Trump-Russia investigation. Another off the cuff remark, barely visible in the transcript, though, perhaps might be even bigger. It suggests that the President had in mind to also fire FBI director James Comey well before he did.
“Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Mr. Trump said.
Later in the interview, Trump slips again. Speaking about Rod Rosenstein, Acting Attorney General for the Trump-Russia investigation, and the letter he wrote about the Comey Firing, Trump tells the Times:
“O.K. Now, perhaps I would have fired Comey anyway, and it certainly didn’t hurt to have the letter...” [from Rod Rosenstein about Comey].
Which begs the question: Did Mr. Trump plan to remove Comey before the FBI Director’s firing in early May? Did he appoint Jeff Sessions as attorney general knowing that firing Comey was going to happen, and expect his AG nominee to backstop it?
Clearly Mr. Trump, given what he saw the director do with Mrs. Clinton’s emails weeks before the election, a letter which helped him, would have been more concerned about the wild card of Comey running an independent investigation of the election and his campaign’s connections with Russia, without Sessions to run interference, or shut down the investigation altogether.
His unusual dinner with the FBI director, where he isolated himself with Comey, and then asked, according to former Director Comey’s sworn testimony, for his personal pledge of loyalty to Trump, is where most reports begin the falling out that led to his firing. The Times interview this week, though, suggests that there may be a longer timeline on Trump’s fears that the Bureau’s investigation of Russia’s connections to his campaign and the election had the potential to be damaging to his presidency.
Often, the few truths of Trump’s public statements are the ones that come out as asides, when he speaks off the cuff and off-script.