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From 'nut job' to 'slimeball': A timeline of Trump's insults aimed at Comey

From 'nut job' to 'slimeball': A timeline of Trump's insults aimed at Comey
President Trump and former FBI Director James B. Comey. (Associated Press)

James B. Comey, the ousted FBI chief, has released a blockbuster tell-all book.

And President Trump, the commander in chief, is not happy.

As Comey continues to speak out about his time dealing with the Trump administration during his publicity tour to promote “A Higher Power,” the president’s rhetorical attacks against the man he fired as FBI director have escalated in frequency and viciousness.

Here’s a look at how we got here.

May 10, 2017

‘A real nut job’

The day after he unceremoniously fired Comey, Trump reportedly described him as “a real nut job” during an Oval Office meeting with a pair of Russian envoys.

President Trump meets with Russian officials in the Oval Office
A photo of President Trump's Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak was first published by Russia's state-run news agency. Alexander Shcherbak / TASS/TNS

The meeting was closed to the press, but Trump’s reported comments became public after the New York Times reviewed what it described as the official White House memorandum chronicling the encounter.

“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump told Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and its ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, according to the Times. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off.”

The statement, which the White House did not dispute, appeared to be Trump's most direct admission that he had fired Comey with an eye toward affecting the FBI’s investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion among members of Trump’s campaign team.

It also appeared to contradict the president’s previous contention that he based his decision to fire Comey on the recommendation of Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions and Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein.

May 11, 2017

‘A showboat’

Trump again shifted his explanation for Comey’s firing on May 11, when he called the ousted FBI director “a showboat” and “a grandstander” during an interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt.

“The FBI has been in turmoil,” Trump said, suggesting that Comey deserved blame.

Trump insisted that he would have fired Comey even if Justice Department officials hadn’t recommended he do so.

He also acknowledged that the Russia investigation was among his considerations when he made the move, saying: “In fact, 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. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’”

Legal experts said at the time that Trump might have opened himself up to a charge of obstruction of justice with the comment.

May 15, 2017

‘Very unpopular with most people’

During a joint news conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Trump said that, as FBI director, Comey “was very unpopular with most people.”

During a joint news conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, President Trump called former FBI Director James B. Comey "very unpopular with most people."

Trump was responding to a reporter who asked if the president had done anything that could warrant criminal charges, presumably in connection with his firing of Comey.

“I actually thought when I made that decision — and I also got a very, very strong recommendation, as you know, from the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein — but when I made that decision, I actually thought that it would be a bipartisan decision,” Trump said. “Because you look at all of the people on the Democratic side, not only the Republican side, that were saying such terrible things about Director Comey.”

Trump also cited Comey’s May 3 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, during which he defended his decision to inform Congress late in the 2016 presidential race that the FBI would reopen its inquiry into whether Hillary Clinton had mishandled classified emails.

“That was a poor, poor performance,” Trump said. “So poor, in fact, that I believe — and you would have to ask him because I don’t like to speak for other people — but I believe that’s why the deputy attorney general went out and wrote his very, very strong letter.”

By relying on the Justice Department’s recommendation to explain his firing of Comey, Trump appeared to again shift his account, pivoting from the justification he offered on NBC News just four days earlier.

June 9, 2017

‘A leaker!’

On June 8, Comey told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee that he believed Trump fired him to impede the FBI's Russia investigation.

On June 9, the president slammed Comey as “a leaker” in a tweet.

During the explosive hearing, Comey testified that he had written memos documenting his meetings and phone calls with Trump. He said he had directed a friend to share their contents with a reporter in the hopes of prompting the appointment of a special counsel to take over the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The New York Times reported on one such memo May 16, and the Justice Department named Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel the next day.

In his tweet, Trump also insisted that Comey’s testimony had provided “total and complete vindication” because the former FBI director confirmed that he had told Trump he wasn’t personally under investigation.

Comey also testified that Trump had demanded his loyalty and requested that the bureau drop its investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn.

June 11, 2017

‘Very “cowardly” ’

Still apparently fuming over Comey’s congressional testimony three days before, Trump again went after the former FBI chief on Twitter.

The president repeated his claim that Comey had perpetrated “leaks” by orchestrating the public release of notes documenting his interactions with Trump. This time, Trump went a step further and questioned whether Comey’s actions were “totally illegal.”

The tweet echoed comments from Trump’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, who days earlier issued a statement accusing Comey of “unauthorized disclosures to the press of privileged communications.”

“We will leave it [to] the appropriate authorities” to determine whether the leaks “should be investigated along with all those others being investigated,” Kasowitz wrote.

Legal experts said at the time that Comey probably didn't violate any law or privilege by sharing his notes.

Nov. 3, 2017

‘Leadership was a disaster’

While live-tweeting an episode of Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” Trump pointed to a segment critical of the FBI as evidence that Comey’s leadership “was a disaster!”

Carlson opened the episode by criticizing the bureau’s handling of an investigation into a mass shooting at a Las Vegas country music festival Oct. 1 — five months after Trump fired Comey as FBI director.

“This is not the only federal investigation that has shaken public confidence recently,” Carlson said.

He cited as other examples the FBI's handling of the 2009 Ft. Hood shooting, the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in June 2016, the investigation into Clinton's use of a private email server, and the deadly truck attack in New York earlier that week.

Of those, just two — the Clinton investigation and the Pulse nightclub shooting — took place while Comey was head of the FBI.

Dec. 23, 2017

‘Leakin’ James Comey’

Trump coined a new nickname for Comey in a tweet suggesting that the former FBI director and his onetime deputy, Andrew McCabe, harbored anti-Trump bias.

The president repeated the falsehood that McCabe’s wife, Jill, received a campaign contribution from Clinton for a Virginia state Senate race in 2015.

The donations came from Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s political action committee and the Virginia Democratic Party before McCabe was promoted to deputy director and a supervisory role in the Clinton email investigation.

Trump’s tweet came several months after Flatiron Books announced that Comey would publish a book about his time in public service.

March 16, 2018

‘Sanctimonious James Comey’

Appearing to rejoice at news that McCabe was fired hours before he would have become eligible for a full government pension, Trump also used the opportunity to lash out at “Sanctimonious James Comey” in a tweet.

The president suggested that the FBI officials had conspired to perpetrate “lies and corruption” at the bureau, though he did not specify how.

March 18, 2018

‘Lying James Comey’

As Comey's yet-to-be-released book began to climb Amazon's bestsellers list, Trump launched yet another Twitter attack seeking to discredit the former FBI director and his onetime deputy.

Trump accused Comey of lying during his May 2017 Senate testimony, in which the former director denied having been an anonymous source for news reports related to the Trump or Clinton investigations.

The president also expressed doubt at reports that McCabe, like his former boss, had maintained memos contemporaneously documenting his interactions with Trump.

“Can we call them Fake Memos?” Trump wrote.

April 13, 2018

‘Untruthful slime ball’

Days before the release of Comey’s book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership,” Trump unleashed an extraordinary string of invective against the former FBI director on Twitter.

Trump called Comey an “a weak and untruthful slime ball” and said it had been his “great honor” to fire Comey as FBI chief.

That came as excerpts of Comey’s book were revealed in news reports.

According to the Associated Press, which reviewed a copy of the title, Comey “casts Trump as a mafia boss-like figure who sought to blur the line between law enforcement and politics and tried to pressure him regarding his investigation into Russian election interference.”

April 15, 2018

‘Slippery James Comey’

Hours before Comey was scheduled to appear on ABC News’ “20/20” for his first televised interview to promote his book, Trump launched his longest Twitter tirade against the former FBI chief to date.

Weaving together a number of conspiracy theories about the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation, Trump called Comey “the WORST FBI Director in history” and suggested that he be jailed.

April 20, 2018

‘Shadey James Comey’

The president engaged in more name-calling following the publication of Comey’s memos documenting his interactions with Trump.

The Justice Department, under pressure from House Republicans, sent Congress copies of the memos late Thursday. They leaked to the news media within minutes.

With that firestorm plus the publicity surrounding Comey’s book, which quickly climbed to the top of bestseller lists after its release on Tuesday, the former FBI director dominated the news cycle for most of the week.

Trump sought to recapture the nation’s attention with the type of early-morning tweet that’s become a hallmark of his presidency.

In addition to denouncing “Shadey James Comey,” the president lamented the downfall of Flynn, the former national security advisor who last year pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with the Russian ambassador.

Comey has maintained that Trump asked him to end the bureau’s investigation into Flynn several months before firing him as FBI director.

April 27, 2017

‘Either very sick or very dumb’

In what appeared to be a reaction to media appearances by Comey earlier in the week, Trump pressed his claim that the former FBI director illegally leaked classified information when he orchestrated the public release of the contents of a memo documenting his interactions with Trump.

Trump made similar accusations during a telephone interview that aired on “Fox & Friends” the day before, saying the memo “was totally classified” and that Comey’s sharing of its contents was “an illegal act.”

“Look, Comey is a leaker and he’s a liar,” Trump said. “And not only on this stuff. He’s been leaking for years.”

Comey pushed back later in the day during an interview on Fox News, calling Trump’s comments “just wrong.”

“That memo was unclassified then. It's still unclassified,” Comey told host Bret Baier. “It's in my book. The FBI cleared that book before it could be published.”

Trump shot back on Twitter early the next morning, claiming that Comey appears to be unaware of what a leak actually is.

“He’s either very sick or very dumb,” Trump wrote. “Remember sailor!”

The last portion of the tweet was widely interpreted to refer to the case of Kristian Saucier, a Navy sailor who was jailed in 2016 after he admitted to taking photos of classified areas inside a submarine and then destroying a laptop and camera in an attempt to cover his tracks.

Trump has in the past referred to the case when criticizing the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, suggesting that the Justice Department held Clinton and her aides to a different standard of prosecution than it did Saucier. Trump pardoned Saucier in March.

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alexandra.wigglesworth@latimes.com

Twitter: @phila_lex


UPDATES:

April 27, 3:15 p.m.: This article was updated with new comments from Comey and Trump.

April 20, 1:15 p.m.: This article was updated with the release of Comey’s book and memos and a new tweet from Trump.

This article was originally published on April 15 at 8:30 p.m.

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