Trump's love-hate relationship with James Comey

Trump fires FBI Director James Comey
Trump fires FBI Director James Comey

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Trump fires FBI Director James Comey 01:39

Story highlights

  • Trump fired Comey on Tuesday
  • Comey was appointed by Obama in 2013

Washington (CNN)The same day FBI Director James Comey announced he was recommending that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton not be charged in connection with her use of a private email server, then-candidate Donald Trump walked onto a stage in Raleigh, North Carolina, and proclaimed: "Our system is absolutely, totally rigged."

"Today is the best evidence ever that we've seen that our system is absolutely, totally rigged. It's rigged," Trump said at a July 5, 2016, rally, referring to Comey's news conference announcing his decision.
But Comey wasn't just the embodiment of the rigged system in Washington that Trump so eagerly decried, he offered political fodder as well.
    "He talked about 'extremely careless.' She was 'extremely careless,'" Trump said, echoing the words Comey used to describe Clinton's actions that same day. "That's a tremendous word."
    It was win-win situation for Trump -- one he would exploit for the remainder of the campaign as he went back and forth painting Comey as a villain one day, and a hero the next. But it seems Trump never forgot the reason he first cast Comey as an antagonist.
    Ten months later, Trump settled on a final depiction of the FBI director, firing him after deciding he had lost confidence in Comey and his ability to maintain the public's trust in the FBI.
    There were no more political wins to extract from Comey. There was only discomfort and more questions about connections between Russia and the Trump campaign as the FBI pursued an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
    The White House insists Trump's decision to fire Comey had nothing to do with that investigation, but on Tuesday members of Congress of both parties -- including the Republican chairman of the Senate intelligence committee -- raised questions about the timing of the firing and expressed concerns about the future of the Russia investigation.
    In the months after Comey's July proclamation -- in tweets and at rallies -- Trump continued to use the announcement to his political benefit -- drawing just as much on Comey's characterization of Clinton's actions as "extremely careless" as on Comey's recommendation that she not be prosecuted, which Trump suggested was the work of a cover-up.
    But that all changed on October 28 when Comey announced in a letter to members of Congress that the FBI had discovered emails "that appear pertinent to the investigation" of Clinton's email server.
    Trump pounced.
    "What happened today, starting with the FBI, maybe the system will become a little less rigged. Beautiful," Trump said of news that would breathe new life into his struggling campaign.
    "I've had a lot of words about the FBI lately, but I give them great credit for having the courage to right this horrible wrong," he added.
    In the days that followed, Trump effusively praised the FBI director.
    "I respect the fact that Director Comey was able to come back after what he did. I respect that very much,' Trump said the next day.
    Two days later, Trump applauded Comey for his "guts" and argued Comey had revived his reputation.
    "It took a lot of guts," Trump said. "I really disagreed with him. I was not his fan. But I'll tell you what, what he did, he brought back his reputation. He's got to hang tough, because there's a lot of people want him to do the wrong thing. What he did was the right thing."
    But that wouldn't be Trump's final word on Comey during the campaign, as the FBI soon concluded that the emails it had discovered did not affect the conclusions of the investigation into Clinton's email server.
    The system, it seems, had once again proven to be rigged.
    "Hillary Clinton is guilty. She knows it, the FBI knows it, the people know it," Trump said. "She is being protected by a rigged system. It's a totally rigged system."
    But then Trump was elected. And then he announced that he would not seek to prosecute Clinton as he had vowed to do on the campaign trail.
    He took office several months later and amid a slew of leaks about an FBI investigation into contacts between Trump campaign advisers and suspected Russian operatives, Comey soon confirmed that the FBI was investigating potential coordination between those two camps.
    In the wake of that revelation, Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo asked Trump why he hadn't gotten rid of Comey and whether it was too late.
    "No, it's not too late," Trump said of firing Comey. "But, you know, I have confidence in him. We'll see what happens. You know, it's going to be interesting."
    Weeks later, Comey went before the Senate Judiciary Committee to face a series of questions about his handling of the Russia and Clinton email server investigations.
    The hearing was widely viewed by Democrats as another opportunity to bring the swirl of suspicion of connections between Russia and Trump's advisers to the fore once again.
    It would also be a chance for Democrats to once again argue that Comey's letter less than two weeks before the election cost Clinton the election, a suggestion that has enraged Trump.
    And so on the eve of Comey's appearance before Congress, Trump painted his final picture of the FBI director.
    "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!" he tweeted.