Defending the sudden firing of FBI director James Comey, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Thursday that President Donald Trump “expects people who are serving in his administration to be loyal to the country and to be loyal to the administration.”
Conway, in an interview with Fox News, largely stuck to White House talking points to explain why Trump fired Comey unexpectedly on Tuesday, arguing that Trump’s opinion of Comey has been on the decline for a while.
But she also confirmed what has been widely reported but little acknowledged by the White House: that Trump wanted Comey to be loyal to him.
“I think this is an all of the above answer, that the president has been watching,” Conway said. “And the president expects people who are serving in his administration to be loyal to the country and to be loyal to the administration.”
FBI directors are appointed to 10-year terms in part to isolate them from politics, and Comey, a Barack Obama appointee, was known for his fierce independence and belief in the importance of maintaining the FBI’s credibility. He reiterated that sentiment in a farewell letter to FBI employees this week, writing, “in times of turbulence, the American people should see the FBI as a rock of competence, honesty, and independence.”
Democrats and some Republicans have raised concerns about the timing of the firing, because Comey was overseeing an investigation into whether Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with the Russian government’s attempts to meddle in the election. The firing prompted questions of whether Trump sought to impede the inquiry.
Multiple news outlets, including POLITICO, have reported that Trump wanted to fire Comey because of his frustrations with the Russia investigation and his belief that the FBI director was not loyal to him. But the White House so far has tried to explain the decision differently.
Initially, administration officials said Trump was merely accepting the recommendation of the Justice Department, which sent the president a memo criticizing how Comey handled the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.
But that explanation proved dubious — Trump had repeatedly praised Comey’s handling of the case as a candidate — and the White House changed tactics, saying instead that Trump’s confidence in Comey had been on the decline since the inauguration.