The Russia Investigation And The Comey Firing: Coincidences, Or Something More?

Was Jim Comey fired in an effort to impede the Russia investigation? Trump's own words are making it sound more and more likely.

Trump Comey

In a week that has been filled with shifting explanations from the Trump Administration for why former F.B.I. Director James Comey was fired, last night Donald Trump himself seemingly contradicted everything his own staffers had been saying and suggested that it was indeed the Russia investigation that prompted him to fire Comey:

[After White House spokespersons] spent nearly two days emphasizing that this was a decision Trump arrived at after receiving a memo and recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, Trump just blurted out that he was going to fire Comey all along. Basically, he admitted the memo was a ruse and a political ploy.

And he even seemed to suggest he may have fired Comey because of the Russia investigation — which only makes his decision more controversial and runs counter to the suggestions of everyone who has spoken on his behalf in recent days.

Here’s what Trump told NBC News’s Lester Holt (emphasis mine):

HOLT: Did you ask for a recommendation?

TRUMP: What I did is, I was going to fire Comey. My decision. It was not . . .

HOLT: You had made the decision before they came in the room.

TRUMP: I was going to fire Comey. There’s no good time to do it, by the way.

HOLT: Because in your letter, you said, ‘I accepted their recommendation.’ So you had already made the decision.

TRUMP: Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.

As Washington Post reporter Philip Rucker noted last night, Trump also said this during the interview:

CNN has more of the interview:

LESTER HOLT: Monday you met with the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosen—Rosenstein


LESTER HOLT: Did you ask for a recommendation?

DONALD TRUMP: Uh what I did is I was going to fire Comey—my decision, it was not [OVER TALK]

LESTER HOLT: You had made the decision before they came in the room?

DONALD TRUMP: I—I was going to fire Comey. Uh I—there’s no good time to do it by the way. Uh they—they were [OVER TALK]

LESTER HOLT: Because you letter you said I—I, I accepted their recommendation, so you had already made the decision.

DONALD TRUMP: Oh I was gonna fire regardless of recommendation.


DONALD TRUMP: He made—he made a recommendation, he’s highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy, uh the Democrats like him, the Republicans like him, uh he made a recommendation but regardless of recommendation I was going to fire Comey knowing, there was no good time to do it. And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.

In the interview, Trump also claimed that he had a private dinner with Comey in January that occurred at Comey’s request. According to Trump, the purpose of the meeting was because Comey “wanted to say on,” a claim that was already lacking in plausibility since at the time there were still more than four years left in a ten-year term that began in September 2013 and Trump had made no suggestion during the campaign or after the election that Comey’s job was in jeopardy. This claim has been disputed by sources close to Comey who are telling reporters that it was Trump who summoned Comey to dinner, that Comey was initially reluctant to accept the invitation because of the appearance of impropriety given the ongoing investigation, but that he ultimately decided to go because it’s generally not proper form to refuse an invitation from the President not matter who he is. These sources also dispute Trump’s claim that Comey ever told Trump that he was not a target of an investigation. This is also consistent with responses that Comey gave to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during his testimony last week when he was asked similar questions by members of the panel. Without fail, Comey’s response was that he could not and would not respond with a “yes” or “no” to the question of who was a target or potential target of any investigation until that investigation was concluded. Given that, it is implausible that he would have responded differently to a similar question from the President. In fact, as Steven Taylor noted this morning, the sources close to Comey are saying that the conversation went quite differently than Trump claims: 

WASHINGTON — Only seven days after Donald J. Trump was sworn in as president, James B. Comey has told associates, the F.B.I. director was summoned to the White House for a one-on-one dinner with the new commander in chief.

The conversation that night in January, Mr. Comey now believes, was a harbinger of his downfall this week as head of the F.B.I., according to two people who have heard his account of the dinner.

As they ate, the president and Mr. Comey made small talk about the election and the crowd sizes at Mr. Trump’s rallies. The president then turned the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him.

Mr. Comey declined to make that pledge. Instead, Mr. Comey has recounted to others, he told Mr. Trump that he would always be honest with him, but that he was not “reliable” in the conventional political sense.

The White House says this account is not correct. And Mr. Trump, in an interview on Thursday with NBC, described a far different dinner conversation with Mr. Comey in which the director asked to have the meeting and the question of loyalty never came up. It was not clear whether he was talking about the same meal, but they are believed to have had only one dinner together.

By Mr. Comey’s account, his answer to Mr. Trump’s initial question apparently did not satisfy the president, the associates said. Later in the dinner, Mr. Trump again said to Mr. Comey that he needed his loyalty.

Mr. Comey again replied that he would give him “honesty” and did not pledge his loyalty, according to the account of the conversation.

But Mr. Trump pressed him on whether it would be “honest loyalty.”

“You will have that,” Mr. Comey told his associates he responded.

Throughout his career, Mr. Trump has made loyalty from the people who work for him a key priority, often discharging employees he considers insufficiently reliable.

As described by the two people, the dinner offers a window into Mr. Trump’s approach to the presidency, through Mr. Comey’s eyes. A businessman and reality television star who never served in public office, Mr. Trump may not have understood that by tradition, F.B.I. directors are not supposed to be political loyalists, which is why Congress in the 1970s passed a law giving them 10-year terms to make them independent of the president.

Mr. Comey described details of his refusal to pledge his loyalty to Mr. Trump to several people close to him on the condition that they not discuss it publicly while he was F.B.I. director. But now that Mr. Comey has been fired, they felt free to discuss it on the condition of anonymity.


The dinner described by Mr. Comey’s associates came in the early days of Mr. Trump’s administration, as the F.B.I. was investigating Russian meddling in the election and possible ties to Mr. Trump’s campaign. That investigation has since gained momentum as investigators have developed new evidence and leads.

Mr. Trump had met Mr. Comey for the first time in January, during the transition, when, along with the intelligence chiefs, the F.B.I. director presented him with evidence of that intervention. Mr. Comey was tasked by his fellow intelligence directors to also pull Mr. Trump aside and inform him about a secret dossier suggesting that Russia might have collected compromising information about him.

The dinner at which the conversation Mr. Comey related took place was on Jan. 27, almost a month later. CNN reported on Thursday that Mr. Comey never gave Mr. Trump an assurance of his loyalty.

Mr. Comey’s associates said that the new president requested the dinner he described, and said that he was wary about attending because he did not want to appear too chummy with Mr. Trump, especially amid the Russia investigation. But Mr. Comey went because he did not believe he could turn down a meeting with the new president.

During the meal, according to the account of the two associates, Mr. Comey tried to explain to Mr. Trump how he saw his role as F.B.I. director. Mr. Comey told Mr. Trump that the country would be best served by an independent F.B.I. and Justice Department.

These conflicting accounts of what occurred between Comey and Trump mean, of course, that Comey is now a witness in the investigation regarding everything that’s going on in the Trump Administration right now. At some point, he is going to be asked to answer questions about his discussions with the President, especially anything with regard to the Russia investigation by both the relevant Congressional committees and by the investigators at the F.B.I. who are apparently continuing their work notwithstanding the fact that he was dismissed earlier this week. At the very least, we need to know if Trump really asked Comey about whether or not he was a target of an investigation and how Comey responded to that question if he did. Additionally, the purported request by the President for a ‘loyalty’ pledge from Comey is not only inappropriate but also potentially an illegal attempt to influence an ongoing investigation at the Bureau. Whether it’s voluntary or not, though, it was a highly improper question for the President to ask, and it would have been equally improper for Comey to give Trump the response that he claims he received from the former Director. The same is true about the claim that Trump asked Comey for his loyalty. While it’s perhaps justified for a President to expect that from the people who work in the White House, it is not the type of thing that he can or should expect from someone in the Justice Department who heads the Bureau charged with investigating wrongdoing, including, potentially, wrongdoing on the part of a sitting President. Just as with the allegations regarding the Trump campaign’s potential ties to Russia, this is a serious question that the public deserves to know the truth about.

Finally, the biggest revelation to come out of last night’s interview with Lester Holt and Trump, though, was his apparent admission that he had the Russia investigation on his mind when he decided to fire Comey. This is in direct contradiction to what his own spokespeople have been saying since Monday when the White House released its initial statement about Comey’s firing and claimed that it was due to the case laid out in the memorandum from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, which largely focused on complaints about Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation that sounded as if they came from Hillary Clinton herself. Given the fact that, during the campaign, Trump was one of the leading people saying that Clinton should go to jail for her alleged mishandling of classified information — remember the chants of “Lock her up!” at his rallies? — and that he openly praised Jim Comey in October when the letter to Congress advising of the discovery of new emails that may be connected to the Clinton server was released to the press. The idea that Trump would suddenly turn around and fire the F.B.I. Director because of that investigation strained credulity when it was first suggested and now has been made utterly implausible by the President’s own words.

Does this mean that we have an admission that Trump fired Comey in an effort to somehow impede the Russia investigation? Not really, because Trump also said during the Lester Holt interview that he had already made up his mind to fire Comey before he got the memo from Rosenstein. However, given what we know so far there certainly as grounds to ask the question. First of all, Trump says in this interview that he had already made up his mind to fire Comey before meeting with Attorney General Sessions and Rosenstein to discuss the matter. Second, we know from press reports quoting sources inside the White House that Trump was “fuming” about Comey’s testimony last Wednesday where he acknowledged for the first time that the Bureau was indeed investigating connections between Russia and Trump associates as part of the Russian election interference investigation. Third, the announcement that Trump was firing Comey came less than a week after that testimony and was made seemingly in haste since it was on a day when Comey wasn’t even in Washington but was rather visiting the F.B.I. field office in Los Angeles. We have Trump’s seeming acknowledgment that the Russia investigation was on his mind when he made the decision to fire Comey. And, finally, there’s the fact that, notwithstanding Trump’s claim that he had made the decision months earlier, Comey was fired less than a week after Comey’s testimony.

It’s possible that these are all just coincidences and that Trump didn’t intend to disrupt the investigation at all, but there’s a quote from Elim Garak, a character on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that seems appropriate here. “I believe in coincidences. Coincidences happen every day. But I don’t trust coincidences.” Should we trust the coincidences here? I don’t know, but they surely ought to be investigated further because the conclusion they point to is one with serious implications for this President, and the country.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Politicians, Russia Investigation, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Argon says:

    Maybe….. SATAN??!!!! — The Church Lady

  2. michael reynolds says:

    There is no question here. Trump obstructed justice. He is convicted by his own statements. Period.

  3. J-Dub says:

    I hate to defend Donald Trump, but he was asked if he considered the optics of firing Comey in the middle of an investigation. His garbled response was that he thought about Russia but that it was a made-up story and shouldn’t influence his decision. That could very well be a lie, but his words are being distorted a bit.

  4. Bill says:


    Quoting Garak the Cardassian Tailor or Spy or man who failed to pay his Cardassian taxes, in a post at OTB is a either all-time or low for this website. I’d rate it a high.

    Garak is one of Trek’s greatest character. Most of his quotes are a hoot.

    Elim Garak: I’m sorry, Doctor, I just don’t see the value of this man’s work.
    Dr. Julian Bashir: But Garak, Shakespeare is one of the giants of Human literature.
    Elim Garak: I knew Brutus was going to kill Caesar in the first act; but Caesar didn’t figure it out until the knife was in his back.
    Dr. Julian Bashir: But that’s what makes it a tragedy. Caesar couldn’t conceive that his best friend would plot to kill him.
    Elim Garak: Tragedy is not the word I’d use. Farce would be more appropriate.

    Now if you can work Garak’s thoughts in relation to ‘The Boy who cried Wolf’ into a OTB post, you’d top this one.

  5. Aelio says:

    Unsound. In trying to make the case in public, Trump just made it all appear as even more unsound. BTW, for every mistake that Hillary and Comey may have made, and for which they have been judged, I wonder what it will be made of Trump’s own mistakes.

  6. Gustopher says:

    @michael reynolds: Perhaps Trump fired Comey for some other reason — some, dark, terrible, creepy reason — and the entire randomly shifting set of reasons is just to cover up the shameful truth. Something so unsettling to Trump that he would rather claim to have obstructed justice than admit the truth to the nation or to himself.

    Perhaps Trump fired Comey after Comey rejected his advances.

    Trump does seem uncomfortable with women — the thought of Clinton taking a bathroom break was “disgusting”, after all — and shows a 15 year old boy’s understanding of them, and need to brag about them, as if he had never really been around them.

    He just has enough money that rather than pretending to have a girlfriend in Canada, he can have a wife brought over from Slovenia.

    And then we have the rejection. Being rejected by a subordinate isn’t any kind of winning. What’s the point of being President if you can’t have what you want?

  7. Moosebreath says:

    “Does this mean that we have an admission that Trump fired Comey in an effort to somehow impede the Russia investigation? Not really, because Trump also said during the Lester Holt interview that he had already made up his mind to fire Comey before he got the memo from Rosenstein. However, given what we know so far there certainly as grounds to ask the question.”

    That seems like a fair statement, even possibly a bit generous to the President.

    On the other hand, the Banana Republicans who run Congress seem totally uninterested in asking the question. As Paul Krugman put it in his column today:

    “Everyone understands that Mr. Comey was fired not because of his misdeeds during the campaign — misdeeds that helped put Trump in the White House — but because his probe of Russian connections with the Trump campaign was accelerating and, presumably, getting too close to home. So this looks very much like the use of presidential power to cover up possible foreign subversion of the U.S. government.

    And the two leading Republicans in Congress are apparently O.K. with that cover-up, because the Trump ascendancy is giving them the chance to do what they always wanted, namely, take health insurance away from millions of Americans while slashing taxes on the wealthy.”

  8. Lit3Bolt says:

    Clickservatives don’t care, because Treason and Obstruction of Justice is Savvy. As long as Trump remains White, they’ll forgive him for anything, even sucking Putin’s dick.

    But remember! As Dr. James Joyner once warned us, we must remain vigilant about the unelected DEEP STATE and how WRONG it is to OPPOSE the DULY ELECTED president.

  9. JohnMcC says:

    @michael reynolds: If you don’t follow Charlie Pierce at Esquire you’re missing a wonderful voice. He writes today about his realization that Pres Trump fell into the Russian oligarch’s embrace because they needed money laundered and he needed money. I thought of your comments here to that effect.

    And about coincidence, I’m sure they happen all the time. I don’t think they make a very good basis for figuring out how and why things happen as they do. And they make a poor legal defense.

  10. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    there’s a quote from Elim Garak, a character on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that seems appropriate here. “I believe in coincidences. Coincidences happen every day. But I don’t trust coincidences.”

    Gibb’s Rule 39: “There is no such thing as coincidence.”

    We have a President who has demanded personal loyalty from the head of Federal Law Enforcement, who has twice tried to intimidate witnesses, and who has admitted to obstruction of justice.
    And Republicans in Congress are supine.

  11. Moosebreath says:

    I am not a fan of Andrew Sullivan, but he clearly gets it:

    “If this is swept under the rug, we take one giant step toward the authoritarianism Trump has always threatened. When a democracy believes its own president can put his finger on the scales of justice whenever his own interests are at stake, and get away with it, it is on its way to disintegration. I hope the Senate understands that this is not a drill. There needs now to be an independent prosecutor to take charge of the FBI case. If there isn’t, the checks in our system will have failed.”

  12. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher: If Trump were really a closet case, I think we’d know about it by now. After all, numerous women have accused him of sexual assault, but to my knowledge no man has come forward claiming any sort of “history” with Trump, consensual or otherwise. (And it’s remarkably easy for that to happen: remember, there’s that fellow who claims to have had a tryst with Obama.) Besides, he doesn’t possess one of the commonest attributes of this type: he isn’t a rabid homophobe. Indeed, gays are about the only traditional right-wing target he doesn’t appear to have any particular animus toward.

  13. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Holy crap, that’s perfect. Best Trek show ever because it wasn’t afraid to make the humans the most boring people on the set. Another appropriate Garak quote:

    [Bashir tells Garak the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf]
    Dr. Julian Bashir: It’s a children’s story, about a young shepherd boy who gets lonely while tending his flock. So he cries out to the villagers that a wolf is attacking the sheep. The people come running, but of course there’s no wolf. He claims that it’s run away and the villagers praise him for his vigilance.
    Elim Garak: Clever lad. Charming story.
    Dr. Julian Bashir: I’m not finished. The next day, the boy does it again, and the next too. And on the fourth day a wolf really comes. The boy cries out at the top of his lungs, but the villagers ignore him, and the boy, and his flock, are gobbled up.
    Elim Garak: Well, that’s a little graphic for children, wouldn’t you say?
    Dr. Julian Bashir: But the point is, if you lie all the time, nobody’s going to believe you, even when you’re telling the truth.
    Elim Garak: Are you sure that’s the point, Doctor?
    Dr. Julian Bashir: Of course. What else could it be?
    Elim Garak: That you should never tell the same lie twice.

    and this one, which might just be terrifyingly on point these days:

    Dr. Julian Bashir: What I want to know is, out of all the stories you told me, which ones were true and which ones weren’t?
    Elim Garak: My dear Doctor, they’re all true.
    Dr. Julian Bashir: Even the lies?
    Elim Garak: Especially the lies.

  14. rachel says:

    Right now I’m imagining that Romulan investigator pointing at Trump and yelling, “It’s a faaaaake!”

  15. Gavrilo says:


    Perhaps Trump fired Comey for some other reason — some, dark, terrible, creepy reason — and the entire randomly shifting set of reasons is just to cover up the shameful truth. Something so unsettling to Trump that he would rather claim to have obstructed justice than admit the truth to the nation or to himself.

    Perhaps Trump fired Comey after Comey rejected his advances.

    So, homosexuality is “dark, terrible, creepy,” and “shameful?”

    You are a disgusting bigot.

  16. S. Fields says:

    References to the sage wisdom of both Elim Garak and Charlie Pierce in the same post/commentary.

    This is why I keep coming back to OTB.

  17. Scott says:

    @Not the IT Dept.: Yep, the best way to lie is to tell the truth but in a way that people think you are lying.

  18. Bob@Younsgtown says:


    Trump also said during the Lester Holt interview that he had already made up his mind to fire Comey before he got the memo from Rosenstein.

    On at least two occasions today 5/12/17, Spicer repeated the line (lie) that Trump got the recommendations (from Rosenstein & Sessions) and then made the decision to fire Comey.

    The gang who couldn’t shoot straight!

  19. gVOR08 says:

    We are not their target audience and they don’t care that we know they’re lying.

  20. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Not for nothing, but the FBI executed a no knock search warrant yesterday at a Maryland GOP fundraising firm with ties to Manafort. The people I’ve spoken with indicated that they essentially just boxed the entire office up and hauled it away.

    The raid was coordinated from and initiated by Washington. It wasn’t local.

    You don’t need me to tell you what that means

  21. JohnMcC says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Both McConnell and Paul Ryan have been clients of that business.

  22. teve tory says:

    Gibb’s Rule 39: “There is no such thing as coincidence.”

    That’s just dumb. The Garak line is much smarter.

  23. michael reynolds says:

    Did you hear that despite saying he would, Manafort never did register as a foreign agent? I wonder if that’s because the registration triggers a background check?

  24. Mr. Bluster says:
  25. Monala says:

    @Bill: You shouldn’t tell the same lie twice, right? 😀

  26. Bill says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    Holy crap, that’s perfect. Best Trek show ever because it wasn’t afraid to make the humans the most boring people on the set.

    There was a minor DS9 character, Michael Eddington, who was a Starfleet Lt. Commander but a member of the Marquis too. The Marquis didn’t like the Cardassians and they were considered terrorists. Eddington says to Sisko-

    Why is the Federation so obsessed with the Maquis? We’ve never harmed you. And yet we’re constantly arrested and charged with terrorism. Starships chase us through the Badlands and our supporters are harassed and ridiculed. Why? Because we’ve left the Federation, and that’s the one thing you can’t accept. Nobody leaves paradise. Everyone should want to be in the Federation. Hell, you even want the Cardassians to join. You’re only sending them replicators because one day they can take their ‘rightful place’ on the Federation Council. You know, in some ways, you’re even worse than the Borg. At least they tell you about their plans for assimilation. You’re more insidious. You assimilate people and they don’t even know it.”

    I’m rewatching DS9 episodes for the first time in 15 years. At the moment I’m nearing the end of Season 4. (‘The Quickening’)

  27. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Bill: Enjoy. I think you’re in the middle of the high points: seasons 3 to 6 were high quality Trek.

  28. dmichael says:

    @michael reynolds: Concerning Michael’s persistent and in my view correct, raising of the money laundering angle, I commend to all this article from the New Yorker:

  29. JohnMcC says:

    @Mr. Bluster: Mr Comey turned down the chance to testify at a closed meeting of the Senate Intell Cmte. I’m thinking he will be much less reluctant in an open session.

  30. rachel says:


    Michael Eddington, who was a Starfleet Lt. Commander but a member of the Marquis too.

    ‘Marquis’ is a rank of nobility. You mean Maquis.

  31. michael reynolds says:

    Yeah, they’re starting to figure out that election collusion is secondary to money-laundering. It’s the money-laundering that made Trump a slave to Putin. Putin didn’t just back Trump to hurt Hillary (the story the Russians prefer) or even to harm democracy (the story ‘moderate’ Republicans prefer.) Putin backed Trump because he owned Trump, lock, stock and combover. No other explanation comes as close to explaining all the events. Including, by the way, Jared Kushner’s prominence in so many roles. Kushner is up to his eyeballs in this, Trump knows it, and keeps him close.

  32. Mr. Bluster says:

    @JohnMcC:.. I’m thinking he will be much less reluctant in an open session.

    I’m all ears!

  33. Matt says:

    @Bill: I actually just finished re-watching the series last week. Garak is still my favorite character in DS9.

  34. Tyrell says:

    Hillary probably sent Trump a very large “Thank You !” card.
    Here are some suggested people for F.B.I.director: Judge Alex Ferrer – has the legal experience and is cool, steady. Merrick Garland – a good person with a solid background, well respected. Arnold Schwarzeneggar – governor of California, popular, and skillful. Ash Carter – experienced in the legal and intelligence aspects of government. Anne Bremer – a skillful attorney and very respected. Alan Dershowitz – what can we say ? Gloria Allred – sometimes abrasive, but a strong, tough leader. Condoleeza Rice – very intelligent and knowledgeable about national security.
    This is just a partial, beginning list. But any of these can hit it out of the ballpark.
    All FBI directors are compared to the legendary J. Edgar Hoover; an icon.