A trove of new emails from just after Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey offers the first definitive proof that the narrative spun by the White House was a complete and utter lie.
When Donald Trump fired James Comey from his position as FBI director last May, the White House sent Sarah Huckabee Sanders out to try to justify the move by claiming that rank-and-file FBI officers had "lost confidence in their director."
While evidence suggesting that the White House was not being truthful emerged almost immediately, a new trove of emails uncovered through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request proves, once and for all, that Sanders was lying to the American people and so was Trump.
In the aftermath of Comey's firing, Sanders who at the time was working as the deputy White House press secretary claimed to be speaking on behalf of FBI agents, saying that she had heard from countless members of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the presidents decision. Trump believed "Director Comey was not up to the task" and "that he wasnt the right person in the job," Sanders said, adding that he had fired Comey because he "wanted somebody that could bring credibility back to the FBI.
According to the account offered by Sanders, rank-and-file FBI agents were largely in agreement with Trump, who described Comey as a "showboat," a "grandstander," and a "nut job" who had left the FBI "in turmoil."
The pushback was immediate, with current and former FBI employees coming out to publicly dispute the White House account. Andrew McCabe, who at the time was serving as the FBI's acting director, told the Senate Intelligence Committee, that Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI" and the vast majority of employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey.
But the new documents obtained by Benjamin Wittes, editor in chief of Lawfare and a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution offer the first definitive proof that the White House was lying and show that the cover-up surrounding Comey's firing was in the works from the very start.
Wittes obtained the documents through a series of FOIA requests seeking communications from FBI leadership issued to the bureau's workforce regarding Comey's firing. After a brief legal battle, Wittes obtained over a hundred pages of records showing how leaders within the bureau responded to the firing of the director and not a single word supports the story told by the White House.
As Lawfare noted on Monday:
[The documents] contain not a word that supports the notion that the FBI was in turmoil. They contain not a word that reflects gratitude to the president for removing a nut job. There is literally not a single sentence in any of these communications that reflects criticism of Comeys leadership of the FBI. Not one special agent in charge describes Comeys removal as some kind of opportunity for new leadership. And if any FBI official really got on the phone with Sanders to express gratitude or thanks "for the presidents decision," nobody reported that to his or her staff.
According to the newly obtained records, on the same day that Sanders was telling the American people that the FBI had lost confidence in Comey, the special agent in charge of the bureau's Knoxville field office emailed FBI staff members, saying, "Unexpected news such as this is hard to understand but I know you all know our Director stood for what is right and what is true!!! ... He truly made us better when we needed it the most."
The next day, the same special agent sent a second email directing FBI staff to "Follow up with your squads" and "make sure our/your folks are doing OK. Check with them today, tomorrow .you get the idea."
Amy Hess, the special agent in charge in the FBI's Louisville field office, hit back at the narrative spun by the White House, writing in an email: On a personal note, I vehemently disagree with any negative assertions about the credibility of this institution or the people herein.
Similar responses went out to FBI staff around the country. Michael DeLeon, the special agent in charge of the Phoenix field office, wrote that everyone is surprised and we are certainly disappointed with the events surrounding this matter."
We all felt the pain associated with the loss of a leader who was fully engaged and took great pride in the FBI organization and our employees. Simply stated, Director Comey will be missed," DeLeon wrote.
As Lawfare noted, the emails show an agency in shock and mourning over the loss of a director who was widely respected and revered within the bureau:
The first reaction the documents reflect is simple shock, confusion and disbelief. The words unprecedented, tumultuous, shock and surprise appear in a great many of the emails. Two days after the firing, the assistant director of the International Operations Division, almost certainly Carlos Cases (the author is identified in the documents only as Carlos but is identifiable from the division affiliated with the email address), described the period as a whirlwind of shock at the suddenness of the departure of Director Comey and concern with what the future will hold.
At the request of agents, multiple field offices even discussed plans to put together books containing personal notes written to Comey by FBI agents from around the country not exactly the actions of employees who were thankful to see their director fired.
"The bottom line is that the documents tell a remarkably consistent story about the reaction inside the FBI to Comeys firing, and it is not the story the White House has told about an agency in turmoil," Lawfare concluded. "Its very much the story, rather, that McCabe told the Senate a few days after Comeys dismissal."
"Someone, the documents show, stood before the American people the week of the firing and told the truth about the FBI. It just wasnt Sarah Huckabee Sanders or Donald Trump."
We now know, without a doubt, that the White House was lying about Trump's rationale for firing Comey from the very beginning. Not only does this further discredit anything the White House says about the Russia probe, but it also provides even more evidence that special counsel Robert Mueller is sure to look at as he investigates Trump for potential obstruction of justice.