Even by the often bewildering standards of the Trump administration, the 24 hours following the firing of FBI Director James Comey were baffling, surreal and at times impossible to process.
In the confusing hours when up seemed down and down seemed up, the White House appeared to be defending Hillary Clinton, the FBI chief was among the last to know he was gone, and there was a cameo performance by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his ice skates.
It all started with a bolt from nowhere late Tuesday afternoon. President Donald Trump canned Comey. No one had thought it would come to this, since the FBI director was overseeing an investigation into Russian election meddling and alleged collusion by Trump campaign aides with Moscow. But the President, either dismissive or oblivious to the political damage he could suffer, did it anyway.
But it was the reason that Trump pulled the trapdoor under Comey that made it so difficult to believe. The White House cited a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein upbraiding Comey over his handling of the Clinton email saga.
So Trump went from touring the country calling for the former secretary of state to be thrown in jail to using Comey’s treatment of her as a reason to oust him. No wonder Democrats said it didn’t pass the smell test.
The looming dismissal of Comey was held close to the vest in the White House — a factor that later complicated efforts to explain it to the press.
And Comey himself was among the last to know. He was talking to FBI recruits when he learned the cruel plot twist that had claimed his job — in where else but Hollywood, California — when someone glanced at the TV tuned to cable news that was at that moment breaking the news of his firing. Comey thought it was a joke, sources said, but he called his office to find out the truth.