When Trump crossed his 100-day threshold, many of us hoped we had survived the most jaw-dropping saga in modern American politics. Then this week happened.
It might feel like eons ago, but it was just Monday when former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified about Gen. Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russian assets in the U.S. Then FBI Director James Comey was fired, Kellyanne Conway resurfaced and Sean Spicer was caught hiding in – er, among – some shrubbery. Bad luck for Melissa McCarthy, who will reprise her role as Spicey when she hosts SNL on Saturday – this week was so absurd it was beyond satire.
Here’s our breakdown of the most WTF moments from the Trump administration’s most WTF week yet.
Monday, May 8th
Preparing himself for the Senate testimony of the acting attorney general whom he fired after she refused to enforce his travel ban, President Trump tweets, “Ask Sally Yates, under oath, if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers soon after she explained it to W.H. Counsel.”
CNN anchor John King speculates whether Trump’s tweet constitutes “witness intimidation.”
Trump deletes his tweet.
Sally Yates begins her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, where she provides a detailed timeline of both the Justice Department’s efforts to alert the Trump White House that their national security advisor, Michael Flynn, could be susceptible to blackmail, and the White House’s reluctance to act on the information.
ProPublica reports that the FBI was preparing a letter to correct then-director James Comey’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee the week prior. Comey had said that Huma Abedin, a close advisor to Hillary Clinton, had forwarded “hundreds and thousands” of emails to her estranged husband Anthony Weiner’s laptop, when only two were actually forwarded.
Tuesday, May 9th
At the White House daily press briefing, a reporter asks Sean Spicer if the president still has confidence in James Comey. “I have no reason to believe – I haven’t asked him,” Spicer says. “I have not asked the president since the last time we spoke about this.”
Around 5 p.m
Trump’s personal bodyguard, Keith Schiller, is dispatched to hand-deliver a letter of termination to FBI headquarters in D.C., though everyone is apparently unaware that Comey is in Los Angeles. CNN captures footage of Schiller confusedly waiting outside the FBI building.
Sean Spicer spotted huddled up with his communications team inside the White House; a flock of correspondents begin gathering at a sliding glass door.
Spicer emerges to tell reporters that “something important” will be arriving in their email inboxes shortly. Everyone furiously updates their phones, without result.
Because the emails were not “transmitting” fast enough, Spicer decides to just tell the press corps the important news: Trump has accepted the recommendation of the Department of Justice to fire FBI Director James Comey.
Comey’s termination letter from the president is passed out to all assembled. Among other things, the letter says, “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.”
Spicer retreats into his office and locks the door.
Letters from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, written in support of firing Comey, begin to circulate. Rosenstein specifically recommends the move based on Comey’s July 5th announcement that the FBI would not recommend charges against Clinton for using a private server as secretary of state.
Around 6 p.m.
Speaking to agents at the FBI’s field office in Los Angeles, Comey learns of his dismissal from a television news update that happens to appear on a screen in the room. “He was caught flat-footed,” said an anonymous source. Others later say that Comey thought it was a practical joke.
CNN reports that federal prosecutors have issued subpoenas for Flynn’s former associates.
Back at the White House, Spicer is huddling with the press shop in some bushes outside the White House. A press office executive assistant emerges to tell reporters that Spicer will answer some questions, as long as he’s not filmed doing so. Spicer then appears and shouts at the camera crews, “Just turn the lights off. Turn the lights off. We’ll take care of this. … Can you just turn that light off?”
Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders explains the rationale behind the firing to Tucker Carlson: “Director Comey had lost confidence with the rank and file within the FBI. He’d certainly, I think, lost the confidence from members of both sides, um, Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate, and frankly and most importantly Tucker, he’d lost the confidence of the American people.” A split-screen on Fox News simultaneously broadcasts an aerial shot of Comeys convoy stuck in traffic on the 405 Freeway en route to the airport.
After a prolonged hiatus, Kellyanne Conway is suddenly back on cable news. The counselor to Trump brags about winning the election (prompting an iconic Anderson Cooper eye-roll) and insists Comey’s firing has “nothing to do with Russia.”
Back in the bushes, Spicer is asked who ordered Comey’s firing. Rosenstein, he says. “It was all him.” A reporter repeats the answer back to Spicer, who says, “That’s correct – I mean, I can’t, I guess I shouldn’t say that. Thank you for the help on that one. No one from the White House. That was a DOJ decision.”
The Washington Post issues a correction, per the White House press office: Sean Spicer was not in the bushes. He was among the bushes. Noted.
Wednesday, May 10th
Amid the continuing fallout from his decision to fire Comey, Trump has a meeting scheduled with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak – the man at the center of Gen. Flynn’s firing and the recusal of Jeff Sessions from the government’s investigation into Russia’s hacking of the election. Reporters shout questions about Comey’s firing, and Lavrov wolfishly responds, “Was he fired? You are kidding. You are kidding!”
The New York Times reports that days before his firing, Comey had requested additional resources from Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein for the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia.
On Capitol Hill, Vice President Mike Pence repeats the story that Comey’s firing was based on the determination of the Department of Justice, saying, “Let me be very clear that the president’s decision to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to remove Director Comey as the head of the FBI was based solely and exclusively on his commitment to the best interests of the American people and to ensuring that the FBI has the trust and confidence of the people this nation.”
The White House press pool is ushered into the Oval Office, presumably for a photo op with Lavrov – but Lavrov’s not there. Instead it’s Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state under Richard Nixon. Why? No one knows.
Trump makes his first public comment on Comey’s firing: “He wasn’t doing a good job. Very simply. He was not doing a good job.”
The White House had been emphatic that the American press leave the Oval Office before Trump’s meeting with Lavrov that morning. Only official state photographers are to be allowed in. Unfortunately for Trump, photos of the event are provided to a state-run Russian outlet, which posts them online for everyone to see.
“They tricked us,” one angry White House official says. “That’s the problem with the Russians – they lie.”
A CBS reporter corners Russian President Vladamir Putin to ask his reaction to the Comey firing. Somewhat inexplicably, Putin is in full hockey pads and uniform, and walking through a tunnel lit in blue neon. Through a translator, Putin says, “Your question looks very funny for me. Don’t be angry with me. We have nothing to do with that. President Trump is acting in accordance with his competence, in accordance with his law and Constitution. What about us? Why we?”
Putin then motions towards the ice rink. “You see, I am going to play hockey with the hockey fans,” he says. “And I invite you to do the same.”
At the daily press briefing, Huckabee Sanders again says that Comey lacked support among FBI agents. “The president, over the last several months, lost confidence in Director Comey,” she said. “The DOJ lost confidence in Director Comey. Bipartisan members of Congress made it clear that they had lost confidence in Director Comey. And, most importantly, the rank-and-file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director.”
The Associated Press reports that Comey is observed “casually puttering in his yard” in Northern Virginia.
Thursday, May 11th
Discussing tax policy in a new interview published in The Economist, Trump appears to claim that he invented the idiom “prime the pump.” “We have to prime the pump,” Trump tells the reporter. “Have you heard that expression used before? Because I haven’t heard it. I mean, I just … I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good. It’s what you have to do.” (According to The New York Times, it’s a common metaphor that dates back to the 1930s.)
During testimony before the Senate, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe is asked whether the assertion Comey had lost the confidence of the agency’s rank-and-file is true. “No sir, that is not accurate,” he says.
Trump retweets an old tweet from Rosie O’Donnell calling for Comey to be fired, adding, “We finally agree on something.”
In an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump says that it was his idea to fire Comey – contradicting his surrogates – then cites the FBI investigation into his ties with Russia as part of his reasoning, prompting speculation about possible obstruction of justice. “I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”
The president adds that Comey is a “showboat” who “was going to fire him regardless of recommendation” from the DOJ.
The New York Times publishes a story alleging that Trump asked Comey to “pledge loyalty” to him at private dinner a week after inauguration. Trump denies the report, saying Comey asked Trump for the dinner and told him he wasn’t under investigation.
Friday, May 12th
Trump begins an early-morning tweetstorm with an old favorite: “Again, the story that there was collusion between the Russians & Trump campaign was fabricated by Dems as an excuse for losing the election.”
Trump dismisses criticism about his staff’s contradicting answers: “As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!”
Trump then floats the idea of not making the White House available to the press at all: “Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future ‘press briefings’ and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”
Trump then threatens the FBI director he just fired: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
Melissa McCarthy is spotted in full Spicey mode, motoring around on her podium outside 30 Rock.
At the White House press briefing, Spicer is asked about Trump’s suggestion that he has “tapes” of conversations with James Comey. Spicer responds, “That’s not a threat. He’s simply stating a fact. The tweet speaks for itself.”
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