By Jenna Johnson,
WASHINGTON – White House press secretary Sean Spicer wrapped up his brief interview with Fox Business from the White House grounds late Tuesday night and then disappeared into the shadows, huddling with his staff behind a tall hedge. To get back to his office, Spicer would have to pass a swarm of reporters wanting to know why President Donald Trump suddenly decided to fire the FBI director.
For four hours, Spicer and his staff had been scrambling to answer that question. Spicer had wanted to drop the bombshell news in an emailed statement but it was not transmitting quickly enough, so he ended up standing in the doorway of the press office around 5:40 p.m. and shouting a statement to reporters who happened to be gathered in the briefing room. He then vanished, with his staff locking the door leading to his office. The press staff said that Spicer might do a briefing, then announced that he definitely wouldn’t say anything more that night. But as Democrats and Republicans began to criticize and question the firing with increasing levels of alarm, Spicer and two prominent spokeswomen were suddenly speed-walking up the White House drive to defend the president on CNN, Fox News and Fox Business.
“Another Tuesday at the White House,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders quipped as she finished speaking on Fox News from its outdoor set, as the voice of Kellyanne Conway continued to banter with CNN’s Anderson Cooper from the next booth over.
After Spicer spent several minutes hidden in the bushes behind these sets, Janet Montesi, an executive assistant in the press office, emerged and told reporters that Spicer would answer some questions, as long as he was not filmed doing so. Spicer then emerged.
“Just turn the lights off. Turn the lights off,” he ordered. “We’ll take care of this… Can you just turn that light off?”
Spicer got his wish and was soon standing in near darkness between two tall scrubs, with more than a dozen reporters closely gathered around him. For 10 minutes, he responded to a flurry of questions, vacillating between light-hearted asides and clear frustration with getting the same questions over and over again.
The first question: Did the president direct Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to conduct a probe of FBI Director James B. Comey?
As Spicer tells it, Rosenstein was confirmed about two weeks ago and independently took on this issue so the president was not aware of the probe until he received a memo from Rosenstein on Tuesday, along with a letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions recommending that Comey be fired. The president then swiftly decided to follow the recommendation, notifying the FBI via e-mail around 5 p.m. and in a letter delivered to the FBI by the president’s longtime bodyguard. At the same time, the president personally called congressional leaders to let them know his decision. Comey learned the news from media reports.
“It was all him,” Spicer said of Rosenstein, as…