President Donald Trump on Thursday said he fired former FBI Director James Comey in part because of his “poor, poor performance” during recent testimony before lawmakers on Capitol Hill, as he shifted his explanation of the much-criticized decision.
The president had previously taken sole ownership of the decision to fire Comey, telling NBC he would have done so regardless of the Justice Department’s position. But on Thursday, he said the ex-FBI chief’s performance before Congress helped prompt a memo by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein laying out criticisms of Comey’s tenure.
“He had the very poor performance on Wednesday. That was a poor, poor performance,” Trump said. “So poor, in fact, that I believe—and you would have to ask him because I don’t like to speak for other people—but I believe that’s why the deputy attorney general went out and wrote his very, very strong letter.”
That was a shift not only from Trump’s earlier explanation of the events leading to Comey’s ouster but also comments Rosenstein reportedly made to U.S. senators on Thursday. Multiple senators leaving a briefing with the deputy attorney general said Rosenstein told them that he already knew when he wrote the memo that Comey was going to be fired.
Rosenstein learned Comey was being ousted on May 8, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said, but the memo was dated May 9—the day the firing took place.
Responding to a question from a reporter, Trump denied reports he had asked Comey to shut down an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. And he said Comey was too unpopular to remain on the job.
“Director Comey was very unpopular with most people,” Trump said during a joint press conference with Colombian President Juan Manual Santos at the White House. “I actually thought it would be a bipartisan decision.”