President Trump only sat down for a disastrous May 2017 interview with NBC because he did not trust his own communications staff, the Mueller report reveals.
Two days after firing FBI Director James Comey, Trump sat down for an interview with NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt and proudly contradicted his and his staff’s own previous statements about the decision to axe the top cop.
“The President told the White House Counsel’s Office attorneys in advance of the interview that the communications team could not get the story right, so he was going on Lester Holt to say what really happened,” reads the Mueller report, which was released in redacted form on Thursday.
The revelation gives further insight into the behind-the-scenes chaos surrounding Trump’s decision to boot Comey—from the White House’s fumbling excuses for the firing to the president’s eventual contradiction of previous statements on the matter.
During that chat with Holt, Trump admitted to having been determined to fire Comey even without a recommendation letter from the Justice Department.
“Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation,” Trump boasted to Holt.
That admission directly contradicted the White House’s oft-repeated line that Comey’s firing was the result of a contentious face-to-face meeting and a letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy Rod Rosenstein asking that the FBI chief be replaced. (Another common refrain, famously uttered by Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was that Trump spoke with “countless” FBI agents who “lost confidence” in Comey. Sanders later admitted to having made that up entirely, the Mueller report reveals.)
The president’s contradictory confessions during the Holt interview led to weeks worth of bipartisan outrage and concerns that Trump fired Comey in order to squash an investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference.
That same evening, the New York Times reported that, shortly after inauguration, Trump repeatedly demanded Comey pledge loyalty to him, and the FBI director sternly declined. The news further fueled suspicion the president’s actions were not simply based on thoughtful recommendation.
The bungled NBC Q&A also kicked off a lengthy period in which the president refused to do televised interviews with any outlets outside a select few Trump-friendly hosts at Fox News, Fox Business Network, and Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network.