How the White House Comey story collapsed

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Media captionTrump says he made the decision to fire Comey - that's not what the White House originally said.

On Thursday afternoon Donald Trump sat down with NBC's Lester Holt. The firing of FBI Director James Comey featured prominently among the topics discussed.

Breaking news flashes, headlines and controversy ensued.

Here are the biggest takeaways from the snippets of the interview released so far.


A different story

For the past two days White House offficials - in press conferences, official statements, surrogate appearances and the like - have justified Mr Comey's dismissal by saying it was the logical conclusion to a structured process that moved through the normal chain of command.

According to the administration, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, on the job for only two weeks, set the ball in motion by reviewing Mr Comey's tenure as head of the FBI.

He joined with Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a meeting with the president on Monday to discuss the situation.

On Tuesday, Mr Rosenstein produced a memo outlining Mr Comey's shortcomings, which Mr Sessions signed off on and forwarded to the president. Then Mr Trump, drawing on the findings of his justice department advisers, concluded that it was time to act.

This is the line Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders took when they spoke to reporters.

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Media captionWhat do Trump supporters think about Comey's firing?

"Having a letter like the one that he received and having that conversation that outlined the basic, just, atrocities in circumventing the chain of command in the department of justice, any person of legal mind and authority knows what a big deal that is," Ms Huckabee Sanders said.

"Particularly for someone like the deputy attorney general, who has been part of the department of justice for 30 years and is such a respected person, when he saw that, he had to speak up on that action, and I think that was the final catalyst."

On Wednesday afternoon Vice-President Mike Pence made a similar point many times.

"President Trump made the right decision at the right time to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to ask for the termination, to support the termination of the director of the FBI," Mr Pence told reporters.

Sure, this line ran counter to anonymous reports coming from the White House that the president had been fuming over Mr Comey's conduct for weeks if not months.

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Image caption The White House had said the decision to sack Mr Comey was based on a memo by Mr Rosenstein (above)

And yes, the idea that Mr Trump would fire the FBI director because of a memo concluding that the director had done a disservice to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign borders on ridiculous, given how the president has long said the FBI went too easy on the Democrat.

By Thursday morning the foundations of those arguments were beginning to crack, as Mr Rosenstein reportedly threatened to resign if the administration continued to claim he was the driving force behind Mr Comey's exit.

Rod Rosenstein: Caught in the James Comey sacking storm

Then, on Thursday afternoon, the president took a wrecking ball to the White House's days of work.

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Media captionTrump's love-hate relationship with Comey over a tumultuous year

"I was going to fire Comey," Mr Trump said in an interview with NBC News. "Regardless of the recommendation I was going to fire Comey."

If that weren't enough, the president went on to say that the Russia investigation was on his mind when he made the final call to sack the director.

"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," he said.

Oftentimes it seems like the president and his press office are operating from different playbooks.

The president says or tweets what he chooses, and his staff scrambles to explain the context or douse the flames of controversy.

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Media captionNot all Republicans are happy with the Comey firing

It happened when the president boasted about the size of his inauguration crowd, alleged that there were millions of illegal votes in the presidential election and accused Barack Obama of "wiretapping" him, among many other instances.

On Thursday afternoon it was time to bring out the brooms once again.

"I hadn't had a chance to have the conversation directly with the president," Ms Huckabee Sanders said during the daily White House press conference when asked how Mr Trump's remarks conflicted with her earlier statements. "I went off of the information I had."

Oftentimes, it seems, the shelf life of that information is very short.


It was personal

When asked why he fired Mr Comey, the president didn't talk about policies or performances, he framed his response in terms of character.

"Look, he's a showboat; he's a grandstander," Mr Trump said. "The FBI has been in turmoil. You know that, I know that. Everybody knows that. You take a look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil - less than a year ago. It hasn't recovered from that."

According to press reports, the president was particularly angered when Mr Comey told a Senate committee last week that he was "mildly nauseated" by the thought that his interventions might have influenced the presidential election.

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Media captionComey explains why he went public reopening Clinton email probe

Given how sensitive the president is to questions of the legitimacy of his electoral victory, the line surely did not go over well.

Back in January, just two days after his inauguration, Mr Trump met face-to-face with Mr Comey and said that the FBI director had become "more famous than me".

It seemed a strange line at the time, given that fame, for the president, is a commodity to be closely guarded.

That remark now makes more sense - viewed not as a joking aside, but as the president's evaluation of a potential adversary.

The "grandstander" was seeking fame at the president's expense. He had to go.


A tale of three conversations

It was a bit of a non sequitur in his letter informing Mr Comey that he had been fired.

The president, in the second paragraph, said that he appreciated being informed by the director "on three separate occasions" that he was not the subject of an FBI investigation.

In his NBC interview, Mr Trump elaborated on those occasions.

Two, the president said, came during phone calls - one he initiated and one initiated by the director.

The third was over a dinner, previously unreported, during which Mr Comey asked Mr Trump to keep him on as director.

"I said: 'If it's possible, would you let me know if I'm under investigation'," the president said. "He said: 'You are not under investigation.'"

According to justice department guidelines, FBI officials are not supposed to comment on the status of ongoing investigations - a position that acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe emphasised during congressional testimony on Thursday.

Ms Huckabee Sanders was asked during the White House press conference on Thursday whether the president's question about an ongoing investigation with the FBI director in a dinner during which his tenure was also discussed was potentially troublesome.

"I don't see that as a conflict of interest," Ms Huckabee Sanders said.

In the end, however, it's largely a question of semantics.

Mr Trump may not be under investigation, but - according to Mr Comey in congressional testimony in March - his presidential campaign is and some of his associates are.

When it comes to law enforcement actions, that may be close enough.

And, for Mr Trump, too close for comfort.

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