Timing of James Comey’s firing as FBI director raises questions

WASHINGTON — As comparisons to Watergate swirled, President Trump met with President Richard Nixon’s secretary of state, Henry Kissinger. Mr. Trump offered a brief explanation for his firing of FBI Director James Comey.

“Because he wasn’t doing a good job, very simply. He was not doing a good job,” he said to CBS News’ Margaret Brennan in the Oval Office.

The White House described it as an erosion of confidence.

“Frankly, he had been considering letting Director Comey go since the day he was elected,” said deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

“Director Comey has shown over the last several months, and frankly the last year, a lot of missteps and mistakes,” she said.

But there was no sign that Mr. Trump had lost confidence in him during a friendly exchange with Comey in January, or in an interview on April 11.

“I have confidence in him. We’ll see what happens,” he said to Fox Business Network.

The president met Monday with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. They recommended Comey’s ouster, and Mr. Trump asked for their reasoning in writing.

Mr. Trump made his final decision Tuesday. Comey was in the Los Angeles FBI field office when he learned of his dismissal from television reports.

Rosenstein’s memo to the president criticized Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation. It did not mention the ongoing probe of Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election.

Wednesday on Capitol Hill, Vice President Mike Pence said Comey’s dismissal had nothing to do with Russia.

“It was time for a fresh start at the FBI,” he said.

But sources tell CBS News that just last week, Comey asked Rosenstein for more resources for the FBI’s Russia investigation, something the Justice Department denies.

On Monday, Mr. Trump tweeted, “The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?”

The president’s decision, made without a successor in mind, caught his press staff flat-footed and with few answers on Tuesday night.

When asked about the timing of Mr. Trump’s decision Tuesday night on CBSN’s “Red & Blue,” Sanders said, “I think the biggest reason is really really simple. He lost the confidence of the rank-and-file members of the FBI.”

On Twitter Wednesday morning, the president pointed to Democrats who faulted Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation.

“The Democrats have said some of the worst things about James Comey … but now they play so sad!” he tweeted.

Another tweet Wednesday called Democrats “phony hypocrites.”

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