Rudy Giuliani’s revelation in an interview with Sean Hannity Wednesday night that Donald Trump reimbursed his personal attorney Michael Cohen for a $130,000 hush payment to a porn star alleging an extramarital affair with the president was a massive bombshell.
Cable TV is wall to wall with the news. Digital publications are splashing it across their homepages and front pages. And rightly so: It is HUGE news that unravels much of the story Trump and his White House have constructed about Cohen’s payment to Daniels.
But Giuliani said something else in the course of that sitdown with Hannity that’s also a very big deal. It was this – in relation to the May 2017 firing of then-FBI Director James Comey:
“(Trump) fired Comey because Comey would not, among to other things, say that he wasn’t a target of the investigation. He’s entitled to that. Hillary Clinton got that. And he couldn’t get that. So he fired him. And then he said, ‘I’m free of (these) guys.’”
Giuliani’s explanation for why Trump fired Comey is, at least, the third different justification we have heard from the White House and its allies since the termination actually took place.
The first explanation was that Comey was fired because of a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that outlined the various ways he had overstepped his duties and responsibilities during the 2016 presidential campaign, including his treatment of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
In his formal letter firing Comey, Trump wrote:
“I have received the attached letters from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States recommending your dismissal as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I have accepted their recommendation and you are hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately.”
The second explanation came from Trump during a May interview with NBC’s Lester Holt. Trump told Holt he was going to fire Comey “regardless” of the Rosenstein memo, adding: “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won’.”
And now this third explanation offered by Giuliani – that Trump fired Comey because Comey wouldn’t give Trump the assurances the President required that he was not a target of the FBI investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the possibility of collusion between the Russians and elements of the Trump campaign.
Giuliani’s explanation is odd – for a few reasons.
It seems to contradict what Trump himself has insisted, on any number of occasions, which is that Comey told him on three separate occasions that he was not under investigation. (Comey has confirmed this claim by Trump.)
In fact, in that same letter formally firing Comey, Trump included this line:
“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.”
Was that not good enough for Trump? Is not under investigation somehow different than not a target of the investigation? If so, why? And was that distinction really a fireable offense?
Then there is the oddness of the President of the United States demanding to be told he is not the target of an ongoing investigation. The best Comey – or anyone – could do is tell Trump he was not currently under investigation. It would be totally impossible for Comey to predict the future as to whether Trump might become a target of the investigation – or be under investigation more generally – at some indeterminate time in the future.
The broader point here is that Giuliani has further confused the motivations for one of the biggest moments of the Trump presidency.
We know that special counsel Robert Mueller, who inherited the investigation Comey began, has been asking witnesses about possible obstruction of justice tied to the Comey firing. Giuliani’s explanation that Trump fired Comey because the then FBI director was unable to provide him ironclad assurances that he wasn’t a target of an ongoing investigation certainly seems like the sort of thing Mueller might be interested in.
That makes it something we should all be paying attention to.