Editor's note, June 7, 2017 at 5:00 p.m.: In testimony prepared for a June 8 Senate hearing, former FBI Director James Comey corroborated President Donald Trump's account that Comey told him three times he wasn't personally under FBI investigation. Read more about that new information here.
If firing the director of the FBI isn’t news enough, President Donald Trump made a peculiar claim in his May 9 letter ousting James Comey.
"I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation," Trump wrote in a letter to Comey that was then released to reporters. "I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau."
Given that Comey’s firing came amid the FBI’s probe into Trump associates’ ties to Russia — a storyline Trump has called a "scam" — Trump’s statement raised eyebrows from pundits, to members of Congress, to PolitiFact readers.
So is it true? Did Comey three times tell Trump he isn’t under FBI investigation?
We know with certainty that the FBI is investigating possible Russian coordination with Trump campaign associates. But we have no way of knowing whether the FBI is investigating Trump personally, nor do we know what Comey told Trump. Definitive answers to these questions haven’t appeared in media reports, either.
When asked for more detail about the three separate occasions during the White House daily press briefing May 10, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "I’m not going to get into the specifics of their conversations."
The next day, Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that Comey gave him his assurance during a dinner and two separate phone calls.
"I said, ‘If it’s possible would you let me know am I under investigation?’ He said ‘You are not under investigation,’ " Trump said in the on-camera interview.
But we only have Trump’s side of the story.
New Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, during a March 11 Senate hearing, declined to comment about any conversations between Comey and Trump.
The FBI normally doesn’t confirm the existence of an ongoing investigation.
But in March, the Justice Department gave Comey permission, due to the significant public interest in this case, to confirm that the agency is looking into "the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts."
That’s as much as Comey would say.
Members of Congress pressed Comey for more detail during two lengthy hearings in March and May, but he declined to answer nearly every question.
At the March 20 hearing, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., asked Comey directly if Trump is currently under investigation, or if he was during the campaign.
"I'm not going to answer that," Comey replied.
While that hearing was going on, Trump twisted Comey’s words, falsely tweeting, "The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process."
Comey testified repeatedly that he believes Russia interfered in the election, and he specifically declined to say whether he thinks that influenced the outcome of the election or the electoral process in any way.
The hearings also didn’t shed any light on how often Comey has met with the president to talk about the Russia investigation.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., asked Comey when he first briefed members of Congress, the the director of national intelligence and the White House, on the Russia investigation.
Comey gave answers for Congress and DNI, but not the White House.
In the May 3 hearing, he declined to say whether the White House was cooperating with the investigation.
Throughout, Comey said he wouldn’t give any more specifics until the investigation concludes, and even then he might not be able to provide more information.
With Comey out, it’s unclear whether the public will ever learn if the FBI was investigating Trump personally, rather than just his associates — or anything else about the investigation, for that matter.
"It’s time to move on" from the Russia probe, Sanders said on Fox News May 9, within hours of Comey’s firing.
White House, Trump letter to Comey, May 9, 2017
CQ, "House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee Holds Hearing on Russian Election Tampering," March 20, 2017
CQ, "Senate Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing on FBI Oversight," May 3, 2017
PolitiFact, "Trump's False tweet that NSA, FBI said 'Russia did not influence electoral process,'" March 20, 2017
PolitiFact, "The possible ties between Trump and Russia, explained," Feb. 22, 2017