Mueller Orders Investigation of Trump firing of Comey

Before firing FBI Director James B. Comey, President Trump had summoned his vice president, chief of staff, top lawyer and other senior advisers to the Oval Office. Announcing his intention to fire Comey, he showed them his prepared termination letter which detailed his frustrations reaching its hilt at his private golf club in Bedminster, NJ, just the previous weekend. The multi-page letter clearly stated Trump's displeasure about Comey not publicly accepting his private statement to the president i.e. the FBI's probe into Russia's interference in the 2016 election was not focused on Trump.

Though Trump exchanged it with a far shorter one, the draft is becoming significant in the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. He is trying to ascertain whether Trump's firing of Comey was a ploy to obstruct justice or not. The New York Times had first reported about the draft highlighting contradiction between Trump's thinking prior to the firing and initial statements from White House officials on Comey's dismissal. Trump's official termination letter to Comey states of the decision being prompted by recommendations from Comey's supervisors like Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. The same was stated in public statements by White House officials, including Vice President Pence.

But the draft letter and later acknowledgement by the White House makes it evident that Trump had essentially decided to fire Comey before he solicited recommendations from Sessions and Rosenstein. Covering other issues as well, the draft throws light on Trumps' stance towards Comey when he was heading the Russia inquiry and looked threatening to Trump's presidency. Furthermore, Pence and other top aides never provided a full accounting of Trump's decision process for Comey's ouster.

Mueller would investigate if Trump's consultation of the Justice Department's top two officials was merely a pretense to terminate Comey or whether he was urged to consider their opinions before acting. The details of the letter and other facts were provided by many people with deep knowledge. White House attorney Ty Cobb denied knowing anything of interest of the special council but reiterated White House's commitment of being open and transparent with them to aid the investigation. President Trump had repeatedly tried to weigh in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election though Mueller spokesman did not make any comment.

The draft was written by Miller according to known sources after he captured Trump's thoughts. Without dwelling on Russia, the draft had an almost similar language to the final letter sent by Trump. However, Trump's decision and the letter's content left many presidents' aides shocked and chagrined and they only advised caution. Even though trump was warned that Comey's termination might extend Russia's investigation instead of curbing it, Trump accepted it and pushed ahead, his intent.

McGahn also highlighted the fact that before visiting the White House, Sessions and Rosenstein had been expressing their unhappiness with Comey. Thus, Trump should have met Comey's supervisors which Trump acknowledged and met the duo during which he presented his draft letter to explain his thinking. Next day Sessions submitted a letter to White House asking for a fresh start for the FBI. Rosenstein also provided a longer memo complaining about Comey's handling of Clinton's email scandal and his derogatory comment: 'textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.' This got Trump to dispatch his termination letter to the Justice Department through his longtime security chief, Keith Schiller for hand delivery to Comey.

This new description of events bolsters the White House's argument of Trump simply wanting Comey out and not intending to disrupt the Russia probe. Mueller is trying to weight the narrative with other events of Comey's termination.

November 21, 2017 - 06:45
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