The James Comey saga that engulfed Washington last week and continues to be the talk of town this week began long before President Trump fired him as FBI director Tuesday afternoon.
And it’s now continued past his termination, with a winding narrative that’s seen the president make veiled threats and contradict his own staff as well as the vice president.
Here’s a timeline of the key Comey-related events:
Oct. 1, 2015: Comey tells reporters that FBI investigators looking into possible compromise of information on Clinton’s private email server would be fiercely independent, because they “don’t give a rip about politics.”
“Part of doing our work well is to make sure we don’t talk about it,” he said, approximately a year and 27 days before talking about the FBI’s work in a pretty public way.
July 2, 2016: Trump tweets that it “is impossible for the FBI not to recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton,” setting up an obvious conflict for when Comey goes public with an investigation announcement just a few days later. This theme continues throughout July, as the Republican National Convention is peppered with “Lock her up!” chants.
July 5, 2016: Comey announces that the FBI is recommending the Justice Department not bring charges against Hillary Clinton for her handling of classified data. Still, Comey says Clinton and her staff were “extremely careless” in using a private email server, and adds that he thinks it’s possible classified information on the server could have been hacked by “a hostile actor.”
The appearance at the FBI headquarters in Washington gives ammunition to the Trump campaign, and sets Comey up to serve as Trump’s latest political foil.
August 22, 2016: Trump makes news at a rally in Akron, Ohio, for saying a special prosecutor is needed for the Justice Department to “investigate Hillary Clinton’s crimes.”
“The Justice Department is required to appoint an independent special prosecutor because it has proven itself to be really, sadly, a political arm of the White House,” Trump says.
Ken Gormley, president of Duquesne University and author of two books on special prosecutors, spoke to NPR’s Carrie Johnson at the time. “If you look at the chronology, pretty much the political party that does not control the White House tends to want special prosecutors and independent counsel laws,” he said. “As soon as the party is in the White House, they don’t want it anymore.”
The message would become relevant again, as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the rest of the Democrats began calling for a special prosecutor to investigate Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election.
Oct. 28, 2016: In a letter to the leaders of congressional oversight committees, Comey notifies Congress that the FBI is reopening the investigation into the handling of classified information in connection with Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton.
“The FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation,” Comey wrote. “I am writing to inform you that the investigative team briefed me on this yesterday, and I agreed that the FBI should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation.”
Republicans quickly jumped on the opportunity to bash Clinton. At a rally in New Hampshire, Trump said, “Hillary Clinton’s corruption is on a scale we have never seen before.” And the Republican National Committee added that the FBI’s decision to reopen the investigation ahead of the election “shows how serious this discovery must be.”
No information was revealed about the content of the newly uncovered emails, but by the end of the day, sources had confirmed to NPR the emails were found through an unrelated criminal investigation of Anthony Weiner.
Oct. 30-31, 2016: The FBI obtains the search warrant necessary to examine the newly found emails. At this point, there’s still no confirmation on whether or not the emails contained any new information or even whether they were sent or received by Clinton.
During this time, the assistant attorney general wrote a letter to Democratic senators assuring them that the Justice Department was dedicating “all necessary resources” to go through the emails as quickly as possible.
These stories illustrate the vague daily news dribble, spurred by Comey’s announcement, that helped get the words “Clinton” and “email” back into headlines, just a week before voters went to the polls.
Nov. 6, 2016: Comey announces that the new trove of emails doesn’t change the FBI’s recommendation that the Justice Department not charge Hillary Clinton for her handling of classified information.
“Since my letter, the FBI investigative team has been working around the clock to process and review a large volume of emails from a device obtained in connection with an unrelated criminal investigation,” Comey wrote to 16 chairmen and ranking members of relevant House and Senate committees. “Based on our review, we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July with respect to Secretary Clinton.”
Sources told NPR that almost every email the FBI reviewed in the new batch was a duplicate of an email the bureau had already seen.
Trump uses the news to call the FBI, and Comey by extension, “rigged.”
“Right now, (Clinton’s) being protected by a rigged system,” Trump told a crowd in Michigan. “You can’t review 650,000 new emails in eight days — you just can’t do it, folks. Hillary Clinton is guilty.”
Nov. 8, 2016: Donald Trump defeats Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, with an electoral college victory of 306 to 232. Clinton wins the popular vote by almost 3 million votes, but that means nothing. Donald Trump will become the next president of the United States.
Neither Clinton nor Trump mentions Comey or the Oct. 28 letter in their election night speeches.
Jan. 22: Two days after Donald Trump becomes President Trump, Comey and the president meet at a reception for law enforcement and security officials in the White House Blue Room. Trump calls Comey over and they hug.
“He’s become more famous than me,” Trump said with a chuckle, according to Reuters.
March 8: At a cyber conference in Boston, Comey reiterates that he intends to serve the entirety of his 10 year term. “You’re stuck with me for about 6 1/2 years,” he says.
The comments come after Comey had been pressing the Justice Department for days to issue a public denial of Trump’s accusations of wiretapping against President Obama.
NPR’s Carrie Johnson reported at the time that Comey “has demonstrated a nearly unique ability to draw critics from both ends of the political spectrum.”
May 2: For the first time publicly, Hillary Clinton says that if it weren’t for Comey’s Oct. 28 letter, she would be president.
“It wasn’t a perfect campaign — there’s no such thing — but I was on the way to winning until a few things happened,” Clinton tells CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour at a women’s leadership luncheon.
“If the election was on Oct. 27, I’d be your president,” Clinton added.
Trump fired back later that night, tweeting “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!”
May 3: The FBI director testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and tells Congress that it makes him “mildly nauseous” to think his late October decision could have swung the election.
Still, he defends himself.
“Lordy, has this been painful,” he told committee members. “I’ve gotten all kinds of rocks thrown at me, and this has been really hard, but I think I’ve done the right thing at each turn.”
May 11: Trump contradicts his White House staff as well as the vice president, over the reasoning. At first, staffers said Trump acted on the assessment of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, but in an interview with NBC News, Trump says he was going to fire Comey regardless of Rosenstein’s advice.
“It was set up a while ago,” Trump told Lester Holt on May 11. “And frankly, I could have waited, but what difference does it make?”
It’s worth noting that just before the firing, the FBI sent a letter to Sen. Chuck Grassley correcting aspects of Comey’s May 3 testimony. The letter came after ProPublica first reported inaccuracies in Comey’s statements to Congress.
From ProPublica’s Peter Elkind:
“In (the letter), the FBI acknowledged that only a “small number” of more than 49,000 “potentially relevant” emails found on Weiner’s laptop had been forwarded from Clinton deputy Huma Abedin to Weiner, her husband, not hundreds or thousands as Comey had stated. The FBI said just two of those messages contained classified information.”
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