“Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace opened his show this week by highlighting who was not on his guest list.
As President Trump’s decision to abruptly fire FBI Director James B. Comey continues to dominate the news, Wallace said he wanted to feature a White House official “to explain the president’s reasoning and to discuss the fallout.” Wallace said that on Saturday morning, the White House announced it would not make anyone available to discuss that topic — but did offer to book senior officials to talk about the president’s upcoming foreign trip.
“When we said we were going to focus on Comey for at least the first half-hour of this program, they put those officials on other shows,” Wallace said.
He then introduced his two guests for the morning: Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which is investigating possible links between the Trump 2016 campaign and Russia, and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a member of the Judiciary Committee who has long been critical of Trump.
Other programs were similarly void of White House representatives, although ABC News’s “This Week” booked Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and NBC News’s “Meet the Press” booked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Later in the morning, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway joined Fox News’s “Media Buzz” to criticize the media’s coverage of Comey’s firing — and, in the process, defend the high-profile dismissal. Conway said the president had been thinking about firing Comey “for a while” and that decision was hastened when Trump received a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. Conway says Rosenstein recommended Comey’s firing, although the memo made public by the White House offers only a critique of Comey’s performance and does not mention firing him.
Conway insisted that the investigation into Russian interference in the election will continue.
“Everybody is saying: ‘Comey was investigating …’ No, Comey wasn’t investigating. The FBI was investigating. And the FBI will continue to investigate,” she said.
Conway also noted that the press has access to the White House and that the president did “three big interviews” last week. (Trump spoke with Time magazine Monday ahead of Comey’s firing, then NBC News’s Lester Holt on Thursday after the firing. On Saturday night, Fox News aired an interview of Trump with Jeanine Pirro, a longtime friend who openly supports him.) She accused reporters of tweeting instead of listening during White House briefings, becoming obsessed with the “story of the week” while missing the big picture and not breaking the news of Comey’s firing before the White House announced it. She also criticized CNN’s Anderson Cooper for his reaction during an interview with her on the night Comey was fired, saying his eye-rolling at one of her answers was “possibly sexist.”
Earlier on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” host Chuck Todd asked Tillerson about Russian interference in the election, and the secretary of state focused most of his answers on the rocky relationship between the United States and Russia. Toward the end, Todd asked Tillerson whether Comey’s firing shakes his own “concern about how much independence the president will give you?”
“Not at all, Chuck,” Tillerson responded. “I have a great relationship with the president. I understand what his objectives are. When I’m not clear on what his objectives are, we talk about it … I understand I have to earn his confidence every day with how I go about those affairs and how I go about conducting the State Department’s activities consistent with the direction he wants to take the country.”
Todd followed up: “What’s the line between service to the president and service to the country, sir? For you.”
“Well,” Tillerson replied. “I will never compromise my own values, Chuck. And so that’s my only line. And my values are those of the country.”
The absence of White House aides on the major Sunday morning shows gave Democrats an opportunity to criticize.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on his Republican colleagues to denounce Comey’s firing and join calls for a special prosecutor to handle the investigation into alleged ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
“The silence of my Republican colleagues is choosing party over country at a time when we cannot afford it,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Schumer later had a message for the Trump administration: “The people in the White House have an obligation — if they know something is false, not to say it. I know they work for the president, I know they’re supposed to be loyal, but they don’t have to say things if they know that they’re deliberately false.”