Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders faced a press corps packed with questions Wednesday surrounding President Donald Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey.
Here are the highlights from Wednesday’s briefing, Sanders’ second on-camera briefing in fill-in duty for press secretary Sean Spicer, who is on U.S. Navy Reserve duty for the remainder of the week:
Trump has considered firing Comey since Nov. 9. “He’d been considering letting Director Comey go since the day he was elected,” Sanders said. “But he did have a conversation with the deputy attorney general on Monday where they had come to him to express their concerns. The president asked that they put those concerns and their recommendation in writing.”
Sanders said Trump lost confidence in Comey “over the last several months.” “The DOJ lost confidence in Director Comey. Bipartisan members of Congress made it clear that they had lost confidence in Director Comey,” she said in her opening statement. “And most importantly, the rank-and-file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director.”
Comey threw “dynamite” into DOJ, Sanders said, explaining why Comey was dismissed just days after Spicer said Trump had confidence in him. “I think one of the big catalysts that we saw was last week on Wednesday,” she said. “Director Comey made a pretty startling revelation that he had essentially taken a stick of dynamite and thrown into the Department of Justice by going around the chain of command when he decided to take steps without talking to the attorney general or the deputy attorney general when holding a press conference and telling them that he would not let them know what he would say, and that is simply not allowed.”
Comey committed many “missteps and mistakes,” and his firing was the culmination of an “erosion of confidence,” Sanders said as she continued to defend Trump’s controversial decision to fire a man in charge of a federal probe into potential collusion between Trump associates and Russian officials. “I think it’s been an erosion of confidence,” she said, using similar language as the White House’s reasoning behind asking for former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s resignation in February. “I think Director Comey has shown over the last several months and, frankly, the last year a lot of missteps and mistakes.”
Candidate Trump and President Trump are “two very different things,” Sanders argued. Asked why Trump applauded Comey’s October letter to Congress that upended the race yet seemingly fired him for the same reason, Sanders reasoned: “He was a candidate for president, not the president. Those are two very different things.” That argument, however, is seemingly at odds with her earlier statement that President-elect Trump had considered firing Comey since he won the election, a victory that came less than two weeks after he praised Comey’s “guts” for releasing the October letter.
Comey wasn’t fired sooner because “the president wanted to give Director Comey a chance,” Sanders said. “But he feels that he made the right decision” by terminating him on Tuesday instead of, say, Inauguration Day or Jan. 21, she added.
A special prosecutor is unnecessary, the White House spokeswoman said. “You’ve got a House committee, a Senate committee and the Department of Justice all working on this,” she continued. “I don’t think that there’s a necessary need at this point to add that.”
Hillary would have done it, too, Sanders alleged. “Most of the people that are declaring war today were the very ones that were begging for Director Comey to be fired,” she said, blasting Democrats for what she said was “the purest form of hypocrisy.” “If Hillary Clinton had won the election, which thank God she didn’t, but if she had and she had been in the same position, she would have fired Comey immediately, and the very Democrats that are criticizing the president today would be dancing in the street celebrating.”