[This post first appeared on Bill Moyers & Company on May 15, 2017]
Last week’s firing of FBI Director James Comey was yet another shocking plot twist in our national reality show — Sweeps Week-worthy programming. As many of you know, every Monday we’re updating our multimedia timeline with new facts and revelations in the evolving Trump-Russia affair. This week, we thought we would lay out the new developments in a separate post because so much happened in one week. Here’s Harper’s update. You can view the whole timeline here.
The speed and magnitude of last week’s developments relating to the Trump/Russia Timeline has been historic and stunning.
- Trump fires FBI Director James Comey because he doesn’t like the way Comey is running the bureau’s ongoing investigation into connections between his campaign and Russia.
- The ensuing White House cover-up tries to pin the blame on a newly confirmed deputy attorney general whose hastily prepared memo criticizes Comey’s 2016 statements about the closed FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s mail server—statements that helped Trump win the presidency.
- Within 48 hours, the cover-up implodes.
But an even more important story receiving far less attention might be percolating. The Treasury Department’s money-laundering investigators have agreed to cooperate with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Trump and Russia.
Here are my newest additions that have now been incorporated into the complete Bill Moyers & Company Timeline.
- Late summer 2015: A member of Trump’s campaign staff calls Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn to ask if he’s willing to meet with Trump. Flynn agrees. Later, Flynn says that four other Republican presidential candidates also reached out to him: Carly Fiorina, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz.
- Nov. 10, 2016: During their first meeting after the election, President Obama warns Trump about appointing Mike Flynn to a top national security post. In 2014, Obama had removed Flynn as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
- Also on Jan. 11, 2017: Sheri Dillon, Trump’s outside lawyer and a partner in the Morgan, Lewis & Bockius law firm, presents the plan to deal with Trump’s business conflicts of interest during his presidency. The plan allows Trump to retain beneficial ownership in all of his businesses. Across the political spectrum, legal experts agree that the plan is a sham because, among other things, it does not require Trump to divest his holdings.
- Jan. 26, 2017: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates informs White House Counsel Don McGahn that, based on recent public statements of White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, Flynn had lied to Pence and others about his late December conversations with Russian Ambassador Kislyak. According to Sean Spicer, Trump and a small group of White House advisers were “immediately informed of the situation.”
- Jan. 27, 2017: McGahn asks Yates to return to the White House for another discussion about Flynn. He asks Yates, “Why does it matter to the Department of Justice if one White House official lied to another White House official?” Yates explains that Flynn’s lies make him vulnerable to Russian blackmail because the Russians know that Flynn lied and could probably prove it.
- Also on Jan. 27, 2017: In a one-on-one White House dinner that Trump had requested, he asks FBI Director Comey for a pledge of personal loyalty. Comey, who was uneasy about even accepting the dinner invitation, responds that he can’t do that, but he can pledge honesty. Afterward, Comey describes the dinner to several people on the condition that they not disclose it while he remains director of the FBI.
- Also on April 25, 2017: The Senate confirms Rod Rosenstein as deputy attorney general. Because Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from matters relating to the 2016 presidential election, including the Trump/Russia investigation, Rosenstein becomes the top Justice Department official supervising FBI Director Comey on that investigation.
- May 6-7, 2017: Trump spends the weekend at his golf course in Bedminster, NJ. Since March, he’s been fuming over Comey’s congressional appearance in which the FBI director had acknowledged the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia and had refuted Trump’s false claim that President Obama had wiretapped him. In the weeks that followed, Trump had grown angrier and talked about firing Comey. At Bedminister, Trump is grousing over Comey’s May 3 congressional testimony — especially his comment about being “mildly nauseous” at the thought that his actions relating to the Clinton investigation might have affected the outcome of the election.
- May 8, 2017: Upon returning to the White House on Monday, Trump tells a few close aides, including Vice President Pence and White House counsel Don McGahn, that Comey has to go. According to ABC News, Pence, McGahn, chief of staff Reince Priebus, and senior adviser Jared Kushner are members of a small group that begins to prepare talking points about Comey’s firing. Trump summons Attorney General Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein to the White House, where he instructs them provide a written justification for removing Comey.
- Also on May 8, 2017: With former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates scheduled to testify later in the day, Trump tweets:
- Days before May 9, 2017: According to The New York Times, FBI Director Comey asks Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for additional resources to expand the bureau’s Trump/Russia investigation. Department of Justice spokesperson Sarah Flores denies the story, calling it “100 percent false.”
- May 9, 2017: Citing the May 9 recommendations of Attorney General Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, Trump fires Director Comey, ostensibly because of his inappropriate statements about the Clinton email investigation prior to the 2016 election. Trump, Sessions and Rosenstein write that terminating Comey is necessary to restore trust, confidence and integrity in the FBI. In his termination letter to Comey, Trump also says that he “greatly appreciates you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.”
- Also on May 9, 2017: CNN reports that a federal grand jury in Alexandria, VA had recently issued subpoenas to associates of former NSA Mike Flynn.
- Also on May 9, 2017: Late in the evening and amid bushes on the White House grounds, press secretary Sean Spicer tells reporters to “turn the lights off” before answering questions about Comey’s firing. He says that the impetus came from the deputy attorney general. “No one from the White House,” Spicer says. “That was a DOJ decision.” Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway echoes that position on CNN, reading excerpts from Rosenstein’s memo to Anderson Cooper.
- May 10, 2017: Vice President Mike Pence says repeatedly that Comey’s firing occurred because Sessions and Rosenstein recommended it: The deputy attorney general “came to work, sat down, and made the recommendation that for the FBI to be able to do its job, that it would need new leadership. He brought that recommendation to the president. The attorney general concurred with that recommendation.”
- Also on May 10, 2017: Deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says Trump had been thinking about firing Comey “since the day he was elected,” but reiterates Pence’s position that Sessions and Rosenstein were “absolutely” the impetus for the firing.
- Also on May 10, 2017: The Washington Post and The New York Times report that Trump had been the impetus for Coney’s firing, not Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein
- Also on May 10, 2017: Rod Rosenstein speaks by phone with White House counsel Don McGahn. According to The Wall Street Journal, Rosenstein insists that the White House correct the misimpression that Rosenstein initiated the process leading to Comey’s firing. He suggests that he can’t work in an environment where facts aren’t reported accurately.
- Also on May 10, 2017: The White House releases a new timeline of the events relating to Comey’s firing. It recites that the impetus for removing Comey had come from Trump, not the deputy attorney general. But the White House acknowledges that Trump met with Sessions and Rosenstein on May 8 to discuss “reasons for removing the Director” and that the attorney general and his deputy sent their written recommendations to Trump on May 9.
- Also on May 10, 2017: House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) asks the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate Comey’s firing.
- May 11, 2017: Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe testifies that James Comey enjoyed “broad support within the FBI and still does to this day…. The majority, the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep, positive connection to Director Comey.”
- Also on May 11, 2017: Trump tells NBC’s Lester Holt that he had already decided to fire Comey before his meeting with Sessions and Rosenstein: “Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story….” Trump also says that on three different occasions—once in person and twice over the phone—he’d asked Comey if he was under investigation for alleged ties to Russia, and Comey told him he wasn’t. And Trump tells Holt that he had sent Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) a “certified letter” from “from one of the most prestigious law firms in the country” confirming that he has “nothing to do with Russia.”
- Also on May 11, 2017: The New York Times reports on Trump’s one-on-one dinner with Comey on January 27, when Trump asked Comey for a personal loyalty pledge that Comey refused to provide
- Also on May 11, 2017: The Senate Intelligence Committee sent Mike Flynn a subpoena for documents that he’d refused to produce voluntarily in response to the committee’s April 28 letter request.
- May 12, 2017: Trump tweets:
- Also on May 12, 2017: In response to questions about Trump’s early morning tweet about Comey and “tapes,” press secretary Sean Spicer refuses to answer whether Trump was taping Oval Office conversations. “I have nothing further to add on that,” Spicer says repeatedly.
- Also on May 12, 2017: The White House releases a one-page March 8, 2017 letter from Trump’s outside lawyers—Sheri Dillon and William Nelson at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. The carefully worded letter states that “with a few exceptions” totaling about $100 million, Trump’s tax returns from 2005 “do not reflect” any “income from Russian sources,” “debt owed by you or [The Trump Organization] to Russian lenders,” “equity investments by Russian persons or entities,” or “equity or debt investments by you or [The Trump Organization] in Russian entities.” The letter does not define “Russian” or purport to determine whether or to what extent individuals from Russia, Ukraine, or other former Soviet-bloc countries may have used shell corporations through which they may have conducted transactions with Trump businesses. Months earlier, Dillon had developed and presented Trump’s business conflicts of interest plan whereby Trump retained all ownership in his businesses.
- Also on May 12, 2017: The Wall Street Journal reports that the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN)—a unit that specializes in combating money-laundering—will share financial records with the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Trump’s ties to Russia.