From ‘great respect’ to ‘nut job’: A year in the lives of James Comey and Donald Trump

Christopher Wilson
Editor
Donald Trump, James Comey. (Photos: Evan Vucci/APJoshua Roberts/Reuters)

Thursday, when former FBI Director James Comey testifies in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee about his dealings with Donald Trump, will mark nearly a year since the two men’s paths began crossing. Their relationship had highs (effusive praise from Trump the candidate) and some very low lows (a termination following what Comey reportedly described as “improper” conversations). Few people have had more of a direct effect on the current state of American politics than Trump and Comey, and what follows is a timeline of the actions of and interactions between the two men that led to the much-anticipated Senate hearing.

July 5, 2016

Comey holds a press to announce that the FBI would not be pursuing charges against Hillary Clinton for her handling of classified information as secretary of state. The FBI director added that she was “extremely careless” but that “our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”

In response, Trump tweeted that the system was rigged:


October 17, 2016

Trump tweets out a story at the Daily Caller, a conservative publication founded by Fox News host Tucker Carlson. The story, headlined “EXCLUSIVE: FBI Agents Say Comey ‘Stood in the Way’ of Clinton Email Investigation,” includes quotes from anonymous agents who called the lack of a grand jury in the Clinton investigation “appalling” and “ridiculous.”

October 28, 2016

Comey writes in a letter to Congress that new emails had been discovered related to the Clinton case and that investigators were looking into them. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the chair of the House Oversight Committee and enthusiastic investigator of all things Clinton, tweets that the case was “reopened.”

The emails were found during an investigation into former Rep. Anthony Weiner, whose wife, Huma Abedin, was a top aide to Clinton. CNN reported that Justice Department officials had hesitations about Comey going to Congress that close to an election with no solid evidence. Although the story covered front pages in the wake of the director’s letter, the Abedin emails yielded no new information in the Clinton investigation.

“We must not let her take her criminal scheme into the Oval Office,” said Trump at a rally regarding Comey’s letter. “I have great respect for the fact that the FBI and the Department of Justice are now willing to have the courage to right the horrible mistake that they made.

“Very proud that the FBI was willing to do this actually, really, very proud,” added Trump.

October 31, 2016

“And I have to give the FBI credit,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Michigan. “That was so bad what happened originally, and it took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had where they’re trying to protect her from criminal prosecution. You know that. It took a lot of guts.”

“I was not his fan,” he added, “but I’ll tell you what: What he did, he brought back his reputation. He brought it back.”

November 5, 2016

Trump praises Comey again at a Nevada rally: “There’s virtually no doubt that FBI Director Comey and the great, great special agents of the FBI will be able to collect more than enough evidence to garner indictments against Hillary Clinton and her inner circle despite her efforts to disparage them and to discredit them.”

November 6, 2016

After Comey informs Congress in another letter that the new emails didn’t affect the conclusion of the FBI’s investigation, Trump pivots back to his claims that it was a rigged system and exaggerates the number of new emails investigators had to consider.

“The investigations into her crimes will go on for a long, long time,” said Trump at a Michigan rally. “The rank-and-file special agents at the FBI won’t let her get away with her terrible crimes.”

November 22, 2016

Trump tells the New York Times he has no interest in pursuing the investigation against Clinton, saying, “I don’t want to hurt the Clintons, I really don’t.”

President Trump with FBI Director James Comey during an Inaugural Law Enforcement Officers and First Responders Reception in the Blue Room of the White House on Jan. 22, 2017. (Photo: Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images)

January 22

Comey attends an event at the White House to honor law enforcement officials involved with the inauguration. Near the end of the event, Trump calls Comey out by name, saying, “Oh, there’s Jim. He’s become more famous than me.” Comey then approached for a handshake before being pulled into an awkward half-hug by the president. Ben Wittes, a friend of Comey’s, told the New York Times in May that Comey felt awkward at the event and was attempting to blend in with the curtains before he was spotted.

February 14

The date of an alleged dinner meeting between Trump and Comey in which the president asked his FBI director to drop an investigation of his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Flynn had resigned the day before, and according to reports from the New York Times and the Washington Post, a memo Comey wrote after the meeting said he felt the conversation was “improper.” These events were reported on May 16.

March 20

In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Comey says the FBI is investigating whether or not members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials to influence the 2016 election.

April 11

In an interview with Fox Business News’ Maria Bartiromo, Trump says he has confidence in Comey but that things will be “interesting.” He also discussed Comey’s statements on Clinton from nine months earlier. From the transcript:

BARTIROMO: For example, was it a mistake not to ask Jim Comey to step down from the FBI at the outset of your presidency?

Is it too late now to ask him to step down?

TRUMP: No, it’s not too late, but, you know, I have confidence in him. We’ll see what happens. You know, it’s going to be interesting.

But, you know, we have to just — look, I have so many people that want to come into this administration. They’re so excited about this administration and what’s happening — bankers, law enforcement. Everybody wants to come into this administration. Don’t forget, when Jim Comey came out, he saved Hillary Clinton. People don’t realize that. He saved her life, because — I call it Comey won. And I joke about it a little bit.

When he was reading those charges, she was guilty on every charge. And then he said, she was essentially OK. But he — she wasn’t OK, because she was guilty on every charge.

May 3

Comey testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and says he feels “mildly nauseous” about the fact his October letter may have influenced the election. He also states that Abedin “forwarded hundreds and thousands of emails, some of which contain classified information.”

May 8

ProPublica reports that Comey exaggerated the number of emails shared by Abedin during his May 3 hearing, as Abedin had forwarded just a “handful” of emails to Weiner and not the “hundreds and thousands” Comey had initially stated. The FBI sent a letter correcting the director’s testimony.

May 9

Comey is fired. Initially the White House said it was at the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, but Trump soon contradicted those statements by saying he was going to fire Comey regardless of what Rosenstein suggested.

Rosenstein’s memo on Comey was extremely harsh regarding the FBI director’s handling of the Clinton case, actions that had been largely cheered by Trump at the time. “I cannot defend the Director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails,” wrote Rosenstein, “and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken.”

May 10

In a meeting with Russian officials at the White House, Trump says, “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” Originally reported by the New York Times on May 19, the White House did not dispute the account, in which Trump also reportedly added, “I’m not under investigation.”

May 12

As stories about Comey’s meetings with the president start to proliferate across the media, Trump tweets out a threat to Comey. In a Friday morning message, the president wrote, “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump and his spokespeople are repeatedly asked about the existence of a recording, but they decline to elaborate.

June 1

The Senate Intelligence Committee announces that Comey will testify about his interactions with Trump that led to his firing.

June 5

The White House says that Trump would not attempt to block Comey’s testimony via executive privilege, “in order to facilitate a swift and thorough examination of the facts sought by the Senate’s Intelligence Committee.”

June 6

When asked by reporters if he had a message for Comey before his testimony, Trump simply replies, “I wish him luck.”

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