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The White House said Wednesday that President Donald Trump's confidence in ousted FBI Director James Comey eroded over the last "several months," as the Trump administration played more defense after the surprise Tuesday firing.
Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that Trump did not make the "final decision" to remove Comey until Tuesday, though he considered firing him since he took office in January.
Just a week ago, press secretary Sean Spicer
Trump fired Comey on Tuesday, and the president said Wednesday that the FBI director "was not doing a good job." Comey reportedly found out that he had been fired around the time the news broke on television.
White House officials are scrambling to justify the timing, insisting that Comey lost his job because of his conduct in the probe into Hillary Clinton's handling of classified information last year. They said it had nothing to do with the FBI's probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which Comey first revealed publicly in March and includes any possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Asked what changed recently about Trump's confidence in Comey, Sanders partly cited a correction that had to be issued to testimony that the FBI director gave in a congressional hearing last week. That was not included in the memo dated Tuesday in which Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein outlined his recommendation to fire Comey, based on the Clinton probe.
The spokeswoman said that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rosenstein came to Trump at a meeting on Monday with concerns about Comey. Trump then asked Rosenstein to give his recommendation in writing, Sanders said. She claimed that Trump had not decided to fire Comey before asking for the memo and did not make the decision until Tuesday.
On Tuesday night, The New York Times reported that Department of Justice officials had "been working on building a case against [Comey] since at least last week." Multiple reports Wednesday also said that Comey had recently requested more funding for the Russia probe, which the Justice Department called "totally false."
Sanders said she was not aware if Trump knew about Comey's reported request.
Democrats have decried the firing and increased their calls for a special prosecutor in the Russia investigation. Most Republican lawmakers, though, have resisted those calls and said that the Senate Intelligence Committee's probe into Russian interference is adequate.
Comey drew backlash on both sides of the political aisle during and after the 2016 election due to his handling of the Clinton probe and Russia investigation. Clinton and some other Democrats blame Comey's late-October announcement that the FBI found new emails potentially related to probe, in part, for her loss to Trump.
Sanders highlighted that many Democrats had heavily criticized Comey in the past before slamming Trump for firing the director Tuesday.
Trump, for his part, praised Comey in October after the director sent the letter on the email probe to Congress.