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Only one of these Trump-Comey timelines can be true, but either way, it’s a problem

The White House communications team and Donald Trump have conflicting stories on the series of events leading up to the firing of FBI Director James Comey. And it comes down to one thing: When did Donald Trump decide to fire Comey?

If what Trump said in an interview on Thursday is true, that means he actively sought cover for firing Comey, the man leading the agency investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Trump said asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for a recommendation on Comey, knowing he would fire Comey regardless of the letter.

The timeline the White House was pushing directly contradicts Trump’s story.

Both White House press secretary Sean Spicer and his deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said Trump hadn’t made up his mind on whether to fire Comey — and that’s why he asked Rosenstein for a recommendation. And this timeline comes with a slew of documents: Rosenstein’s recommendation, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s recommendation, Trump’s letter to Comey, and a press release from Spicer. Even Vice President Mike Pence repeated this story to the press.

But all that was shot when Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that he was going to fire Comey “regardless of the recommendation,” because Comey was a “showboat” and “grandstander” who had done a poor job leading the FBI.

Regardless of what rhetorical gymnastics the White House uses to resolve these two dissonant timelines, it’s important remember that this means one (or both) of the following statements is true:

  • The White House purposely concocted a false narrative — with supporting documents — to give cover to a president who wanted to fire an FBI director investigating his campaign.
  • President Trump lied about the reason he fired his FBI director, and we don’t have a real answer as to why he fired the man investigating his campaign more than six years before his term ends.

That’s why it’s important to investigate what really happened.