Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) boarded the tram underneath the Capitol Thursday afternoon clutching a Snickers wrapper and a theory for why President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.
By the time he returned to his Senate office, Inhofe would see that theory undercut — by the president himself.
“I look at the White House and they say, ‘We’ve had a guy [Comey] who Democrats have been demanding they get rid of,’” Inhofe said, onboard the tram, which links the Capitol to Senate office buildings. “I think what’s behind that whole thing — and I get a lot of stuff from the guy who is my best friend, [Attorney General] Jeff [Sessions] — we watched a guy go back and forth and back and forth and back and forth, and he made all the Democrats mad because he didn’t, in their eyes, behave properly in the election.”
Inhofe’s explanation reflected the account of Comey’s firing that the White House was pushing as recently as Wednesday, and had cited in the documents it released in announcing the dismissal. By that account, Trump fired Comey over his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation in the 2016 election and a loss of trust from Democrats and Republicans alike (and not because of anything to do with the FBI’s ongoing investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia).
Since news of Comey’s firing broke, Trump’s aides have themselves told reporters that the president did so as he grew incensed with the Russia probe. Inhofe said he didn’t think those reports were credible.
“I think that’s false,” he said.
Still, Inhofe said he was open to being convinced by new evidence that Comey hadn’t been fired because of his handling of Clinton’s emails — though he didn’t specify what kind of new evidence would count.
“Oh, sure, if something develops that shows it? Sure,” he said. “Not that changing my mind is going to alter anything that happens — I’m just one of many members [in the Senate].”
But by the time Inhofe returned to his office in the Russell Office Building, about 15 minutes after boarding the tram, new evidence had indeed developed, from Trump’s own mouth.
NBC News aired an interview of Trump saying Comey had been fired because the FBI director was a “showboat” whom the president had determined he was going to fire months ago, regardless of the recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
“When I decided to just do it I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won,’” Trump said.
The about-face explanation from Trump has put Republican senators who are trying to defend him, like Inhofe, in a difficult position. On Wednesday, congressional Republicans such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell defended Comey’s dismissal by citing Rosenstein’s recommendation.
When asked in a follow-up email about Trump’s changing version of events, a spokesperson for Inhofe emphasized the senator’s belief in the importance of the FBI.
“It sure has been a crazy week so I appreciate you taking the time to reach out,” said Daisy Letendre, the spokesperson. “To clarify, Sen. Inhofe believes the FBI is an institution that must maintain the trust and respect of all Americans and that in recent months the agency had lost that trust and respect.”