Comey's Removal Started A Whirlwind Week Of Politics

May 13, 2017
Originally published on May 14, 2017 7:48 am
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And what a week it has been here in Washington. Tuesday was shaping up to be that rarest of creatures, a quiet news day, reporters checking their watches thinking maybe we might make it home for dinner when word came that FBI Director James Comey was out. What followed was such a whiplash-inducing series of twists and turns that we've invited NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving to help us make sense of it all. Hi, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: We have four whole minutes. I'm sure we can do justice to the week in that, right?

ELVING: Yeah, sure.

KELLY: (Laughter) If anyone can, it's you. Start with the fact that James Comey was apparently as surprised as the rest of us by this news that he'd been fired.

ELVING: Yes. Comey was in LA for a meeting at the FBI headquarters there. He had not gotten a heads-up, so word came to them mid-meeting in early afternoon in LA. The director returned to D.C. that night and has had no public appearances since, although he has been in touch with various FBI officials and some senators. And he has declined an invitation to speak to the Senate Intelligence Committee next week, said that he - when he does speak out, he wants it to be open to the public.

KELLY: Now work us through the evolving explanations that the White House has given us for why Comey was fired. What was the original reasoning?

ELVING: We were told the president was responding to a recommendation from the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to whom Comey reports, and he had apparently given Comey a negative review in a memo that he had just given to the president.

KELLY: Right. And they also told us this was all about the Hillary Clinton email investigation. But then the president seemed to contradict all that in an interview he gave to NBC News with Lester Holt that came out on Friday, and here's what the president said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself I said, you know, this rusher (ph) thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election.

KELLY: So, Ron, what should we make of this?

ELVING: By turning the discussion back to last year's election and specifically the Russian interference, the president seems to be acknowledging the elephant in the room. The U.S. intelligence community has confirmed that that interference took place. And, you know, he done - he had done that. He had already turned back to that elephant in the room in the dismissal letter that he sent to Comey on Tuesday. So the president is making it clear that he had decided to fire Comey to just do it, as he says, before he ordered the attorney general and the deputy attorney general to develop a recommendation.

KELLY: (Laughter) I can feel my whiplash setting back in as you speak. Now, meanwhile, the water's got a little bit muddier over on Twitter, and President Trump is involved. There will be Twitter. And among other things, he tweeted a word this week that seemed to upend the storyline again, and that word would be tapes.

ELVING: Yes. He says Comey better be careful because there might be recordings of the conversation that the two men had at the White House back in January. That was the lunch chat, you know, we learned this week where Comey associates tell us the president asked for a pledge of loyalty that Comey refused to give. Now, you don't have to have been around in 1974 to know that tapes of White House conversations were what forced President Richard Nixon to resign that year in what was known as the Watergate scandal. Now, this controversy hasn't reached anything like that stage, but all the various Russia connections to President Trump and to his inner circle, that investigation is really just beginning.

KELLY: Ron, you have lived through a Washington controversy or two. I don't want to date you, but let me ask how would you rank this one? I mean, in a word or two you said it's no Watergate. Are we getting close?

ELVING: It's not Watergate until there is an inside player who has turned against Trump and at least a few Republicans in Congress who are willing to back an independent investigation. The critical part of the investigation being done right now is being done by the FBI. That's why it matters who's in charge of the FBI.

KELLY: Indeed. All right. That's Ron Elving, NPR senior editor and correspondent on our Washington desk. Thank you very much.

ELVING: Thank you, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.