In the span of a dizzying few hours, President Donald Trump’s attempt to fix the Comey crisis made it worse after contradicting the vice president and his press secretary on James the FBI Director’s firing. Now Trump is besieged by internal leaks as he tries to weather the fallout from his self-made scandal.
Trump spent many of the first 48 hours after he fired his FBI director grumbling to friends and associates about his lousy media coverage — and about the shortcomings of his senior aides.
Then, after he went on television himself to give his own, contradictory version of events, he made it even worse. Speaking to NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump said he’d planned to fire James Comey “regardless” of whether the Department of Justice recommended it, undermining the claims made by his spokesman, vice president and every other senior aide to the contrary.
Media reports about the run-up to Trump’s decision paint him as isolated and consumed by anger and paranoia, prompting questions from Trump allies about whose interests these government officials had in mind when they spoke to the press.
The behind-the-scenes stories have often undermined the White House’s public reasoning for firing Comey, causing further political trouble for the administration and exacerbating growing divisions between Trump and his law enforcement agencies, The Hill reports.
And Trump’s abrupt firing of Comey appears to have stirred opposition from the former FBI director’s loyalists, who are pushing back on the administration’s claims in the press.
The White House felt it was under attack by anonymous leaks coming out of federal agencies in the early days of the administration, leading Trump’s allies to launch public attacks against the “deep state” leakers they described as lifelong bureaucrats and Obama administration holdovers.
The conflict with Comey appears to have launched a new round of leaks from the Justice Department and the FBI.
Citing sources close to Comey or lawmakers in touch with the FBI and DOJ, media outlets ran with stories about how Comey was fired because the administration felt the noose tightening on the Russia investigation.
At a moment of crisis, the White House looks surrounded on the outside and divided on the inside.
“It’s total chaos,” said one former transition team official with close ties to the administration.
“It’s image-making on the inside and people trying to protect themselves. There is a deep streak of paranoia among staff. The communications team shit the bed on the Comey firing and now the war with the FBI has them all scared and throwing each other under the bus.
“Thank God I don’t work there. If I did, I’d be dialing up my attorney.”
The behind-the-scenes stories that gripped Washington on Thursday were relayed to the press in the publications and news outlets Trump loves to hate — the New York Times and Washington Post.
In the stories, Trump’s decision to fire Comey was described as the result of “festering anger” at the FBI director for failing to prioritize leaks coming out of the bureau over the investigation into allegations Trump campaign officials colluded with the Russians during last year’s presidential race.
Trump was “stewing” at Comey for weeks, even as some close to him, including chief strategist Stephen Bannon, reportedly advised that the time was not right to fire Comey. But Trump still raged at his staff for not being more prepared to defend his blowback against his actions.
According to the report, the accounts were almost uniformly unflattering for the president. The stories also elevated some wings of the White House at the expense of others, underscoring the persistent divisions among Trump’s team of rivals and their propensity to air grievances in the press.
The rush of leaks comes as the White House deals with normal course palace intrigue stories.
CNN reported that White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s job was once again on the chopping block and Trump did nothing to quell those rumors in an interview with Time magazine that ran Thursday.
“The real story is the surveillance but my comms people can’t get it out,” Trump said.
“We never got 1 damaging leak out of Obama White House staff in 8 yrs. Under Trump, they appear hourly. BIG DANGER: Small leaks sink ships!!” Matt Drudge, from the Drudge report, said in a flurry of tweets.
“Trump advisers leaking to media are now deliberately sabotaging the presidency. Major house cleaning needed for survival. Leaks on hour, every hour, will destroy Trump presidency. There’s a Trojan horse plotting within the inner circle!”
Trump also faced negative stories that appeared to originate with law enforcement officials angered by his handling of the Comey affair. Those stories directly contradicted the White House’s accounts of events.
Stories about FBI anger over Comey’s firing gained traction, with CNN’s Jake Tapper citing sources close to Comey saying he was fired because the investigation into potential ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia was “accelerating.”
Comey’s allies also went to the press to shoot down Trump’s claim that Comey had told him three times he was not at the center of the Russia investigation, an argument Trump first made in the letter he used to fire Comey.
It appears Teflon Don is starting to scratch after picking up a fight with the wrong guy.