The conflict between the president and Comey, summed up in a timeline
To help readers keep track of a fast-moving and complex story, The Fact Checker has compiled a timeline of key moments in the conflict between President Trump and former FBI director James B. Comey. As you will see, key aspects of their interactions remain in dispute.
Dec. 29, 2016: The Obama administration announces measures against Russia in retaliation for what U.S. officials characterized as interference in the 2016 presidential election, ordering the expulsion of Russian “intelligence operatives” and imposing new sanctions on state agencies and people suspected in the hacks of U.S. computer systems.
Michael T. Flynn, incoming national security adviser, speaks by phone with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States. They discuss the sanctions, and Flynn suggests the possibility of sanctions relief once Trump becomes president. The call is monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies.
Jan. 20, 2017: Trump is sworn in as president.
Jan. 22: Trump singles out Comey at a White House event and hugs him, saying, “Oh, and there’s Jim. He’s become more famous than me.”
Trump was presumably referring to Comey’s announcement, days before the election, that the FBI might have found new information in the Hillary Clinton email case. Clinton — and many other Democrats — say Comey’s announcement tipped a close election toward Trump.
Comey’s version (from Benjamin Wittes, “What James Comey Told Me About Donald Trump,” Lawfare blog, May 18): Comey “tried hard to blend into the background and avoid any one-on-one interaction. He was wearing a blue blazer and noticed that the drapes were blue. So he stood in the back, right in front of the drapes, hoping Trump wouldn’t notice him camouflaged against the wall . . . . Comey took the long walk across the room determined, he told me, that there was not going to be a hug. Bad enough that he was there; bad enough that there would be a handshake; he emphatically did not want any show of warmth. Again, look at the video, and you’ll see Comey preemptively reaching out to shake hands. Trump grabs his hand and attempts an embrace. The embrace, however, is entirely one sided. Comey was disgusted. He regarded the episode as a physical attempt to show closeness and warmth in a fashion calculated to compromise him before Democrats who already mistrusted him.”
Jan. 24: The FBI interviews Flynn about his conversations with Kislyak.
Jan. 26: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates goes to the White House and tells White House Counsel Donald McGahn that, contrary to Flynn’s claims to White House officials, sanctions had been discussed in the calls, based on the monitoring of the conversations by intelligence agencies. She warns that Flynn is vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow.
Jan. 27: McGahn asks Yates to the White House again to discuss the matter. Yates testified that he did not indicate whether he had discussed the Flynn situation with anyone else at the White House. But White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that “the president was immediately informed of the situation.”
Jan. 27 — Trump and Comey: That night, Trump and Comey have dinner at the White House. But they disagree about who asked for the meeting.
Trump’s version (from an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, May 11): “He wanted to have dinner, because he wanted to stay on. We had a very nice dinner at the White House . . . . That dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner.”
Comey’s version (from an interview of James R. Clapper Jr., former director of national intelligence, on CNN, May 14): “I was at the Hoover Building on the 27th of January for another event, and spoke briefly with Director Comey. He mentioned to me the invitation he had from the president for dinner, and that he was, my characterization, uneasy with it, both from a standpoint of the optic of compromising his independence and the independence of the FBI.”
At the dinner, Trump reportedly asks Comey for his loyalty, according to news reports.
Comey’s version (from Wittes, May 18): “He did tell me in general terms that early on, Trump had ‘asked for loyalty’ and that Comey had promised him only honesty. He also told me that Trump was perceptibly uncomfortable with this answer. And he said that ever since, the President had been trying to be chummy in a fashion that Comey felt was designed to absorb him into Trump’s world — to make him part of the team.”
Trump’s version (from an interview on Fox News Channel with Jeanine Pirro, May 12): “I didn’t, but I don’t think it would be a bad question to ask. I think loyalty to the country, loyalty to the United States is important. You know, I mean it depends on how you define loyalty. Number one. Number two, I don’t know how that got there, because I didn’t ask that question.”
Jan. 30: Trump fires Yates, allegedly because of an unrelated matter — her conclusion that Trump’s executive order barring entry into the United States of travelers from seven Muslimclosely majority countries was “unlawful.” The executive order is later blocked by the courts.
Feb. 13: The Washington Post reports that the White House had known for weeks that Flynn had misled people about the nature of the Kislyak calls. Flynn is forced to resign hours after the article is posted. Spicer said Flynn was let go because he no longer had the trust of the president.
Feb. 14: In an Oval Office meeting, Trump asks Comey to end the investigation of Flynn, according to a memo Comey wrote. The memo recounted that Trump told Comey: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Trump added that Flynn had done nothing wrong.
Comey replied only, “I agree he is a good guy,” the memo said.
The White House said the memo did not provide a “truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation.” Trump denied that he asked Comey to ease up on the investigation.
March 4: In a tweet, Trump claims without evidence that President Barack Obama had tapped his phones during the campaign. A day later, news reports say Comey asked the Justice Department to publicly reject Trump’s claim. But no action is taken.
March 20: In congressional testimony, Comey says the Justice Department has cleared him to say there is “no information” to support Trump’s claim about wiretapping. He also tells Congress that the FBI was investigating “the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
After Comey’s testimony, The Post reported, Trump separately asked two of the nation’s top intelligence officials — Daniel Coats, director of national intelligence, and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, director of the National Security Agency — to help him push back against the FBI inquiry. He urged them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the campaign, but they refused, considering the request inappropriate.
May 2: Trump knocks Comey on Twitter, saying: “FBI Director Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds!”
May 3: Comey tells Congress: “It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election.” He offers a defense of his actions in the Clinton case and indicates that the Russia investigation is continuing.
May 8: Trump tells Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein that he wants to fire Comey. Rosenstein crafts a memo that faults Comey for his handling of the Clinton case. Rosenstein has declined to say whether anyone asked him to write the memo. The White House originally cited the memo as justification for the firing but then later backed off that explanation after Rosenstein complained.
May 9: Comey is fired. In his note to Comey, Trump says, “I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.” People close to Comey insist he never gave Trump such assurances.
May 10: Trump meets with Russian officials, including Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “I just fired the head of the F.B.I.,” Trump says, according to a White House summary of the conversation. “He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Trump adds: “I’m not under investigation.”
May 17: Rosenstein appoints a special counsel, former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III, to oversee the Russia inquiry and investigate any related matters, such as obstruction of justice and perjury.