The con­flict be­tween the pres­i­dent and Comey, summed up in a time­line

The Washington Post Sunday - - NEWS - GLENN KESSLER glenn.kessler@wash­post.com

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.

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