May 9, 2017 would become one of the most infamous days of Donald Trump's presidency, setting in motion the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller and his detailed report now consuming Washington. It was the day President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.
Mueller's 448-page report outlines what led up to Comey's dismissal, the disagreements behind the scenes, and how the White House managed the fallout of a firing that was arguably the most consequential of Mr. Trump's more than two years in office.
Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on May 3, 2017, testimony which angered the president. The president expressed his frustrations, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions didn't believe the president would fire Comey, according to Mueller's report. The following day, May 4, Mr. Trump brought up Comey to then-White House adviser Steve Bannon multiple times, clearly frustrated with the FBI director.
It was at a dinner on Friday, May 5, in Bedminster, New Jersey that the president first told trusted top policy adviser Stephen Miller and son-in-law Jared Kushner he had ideas about writing a letter to fire Comey. Miller drafted one letter, with the president insisting he not tell anyone at the White House for fear of leaks in a leaky administration. Mr. Trump also demanded the letter open by saying he isn't under investigation. The president made several rounds of edits on that draft.
On Monday, May 8, the president met with then-White House counsel Don McGahn, then-chief of staff Reince Priebus, and Miller and told them he was indeed firing Comey, reading aloud the first few paragraphs of his termination letter.
After that, McGahn met with Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Mueller's report says Sessions and Rosenstein "criticized Comey and did not raise concerns about replacing him."
The president and several top White House officials at 5 p.m. that Monday then met with Sessions and Rosenstein to discuss Comey, and distributed copies of the letter he and Miller had drafted. But it was suggested that the Justice Department draft a letter instead, and the president agreed.
McGahn and Deputy White House Counsel Uttam Dhillon urged Mr. Trump to allow Comey to resign, but the president refused.
On the evening Comey was fired, Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe was summoned to meet with the president at the White House.
Comey learned he was fired from news coverage playing on televisions while he was in Los Angeles visiting an FBI field office, as has been previously reported.
The news by then was everywhere, but the coverage wasn't positive. The president told his communications team he was unhappy with press coverage, and he told former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie he was getting "killed" in the press, the report says. So, the president directed his press aides to go out and defend him.
The White House press office called the Justice Department, saying the White House wanted to release a statement that it was Rosenstein's idea to fire Comey. But Rosenstein didn't want that. He told other Justice Department officials, according to Mueller's report, that he wouldn't participate in dispersing a "false story."
The White House followed through anyways, with then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer going to the podium in the briefing room and telling reporters the decision to fire Comey was "all" Rosenstein's.
The messaging war didn't end there.
Mueller's report also says White House press secretary Sarah Sanders admitted to investigators she based claims that she'd heard from "countless" FBI agents they'd lost confidence in Comey, on nothing.
"Sanders told this office that her reference to hearing from 'countless members of the FBI' was a 'slip of the tongue,'" Mueller's report says. "She also recalled that her statement in a separate press interview that rank-and file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey was a comment she made 'in the heat of the moment' that was not founded on anything."
Sessions and Rosenstein went to McGahn with concerns that the White House was falsely saying that it was Rosenstein's idea to fire Comey. McGahn agreed it was wrong and asked the White House Counsel's office to work with the White House communications team to "correct the narrative." By the following day, May 11, President Trump was telling NBC's Lester Holt that he was already going to fire Comey, that "I was going to fire regardless of recommendation," and that he did so "knowing there was no good time to do it."
It was in the wake of the Comey firing that Rosenstein appointed Mueller.
When Mr. Trump learned of Mueller's appointment, he said, "I'm f**ked," according to Mueller's report.