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Politics & Government

After Comey Firing, Are Supporters Still Backing Trump?


President Trump now says he was thinking of, quote, "this Russia thing with Trump," when he decided to fire FBI director James Comey on Tuesday. Trump also said it was his idea to fire Comey. This is the president in an interview with NBC's Lester Holt that aired last night.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Look, he's a showboat. He's a grandstander. The FBI has been in turmoil. You know that. I know that. Everybody knows that. You take a look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil - less than a year ago. It hasn't recovered from that.

GREENE: Now at first, we should remember the White House said it was the Justice Department that recommended Comey's ouster. But the president's saying, in the interview that aired last night, that it was him. So there are conflicting explanations now. But how big of an issue is that for President Trump's supporters? We have Chris Buskirk on the line from Phoenix, Ariz. He is editor and publisher of the website American Greatness and a frequent guest on our program.

Hey, Chris.

CHRIS BUSKIRK: Hi, David. How are you?

GREENE: I'm good. Thank you.

So are you bothered that the reasons for Comey's firing seem to be changing a bit here?

BUSKIRK: I'm only bothered that it didn't happen on January 20. But - you know what? - I'll take May 9.

GREENE: OK (laughter). Why were you so eager to have Comey out?

BUSKIRK: You know, the problem with Comey was - and we saw this, I think, a little bit, you know, when Stephen Colbert announced that Comey had been fired to his audience - that, you know, this was - that was a largely sort of center-left audience - they cheered. I mean, the problem is is that Comey had lost the confidence both of the left and the right. This is an FBI director. He's a law enforcement official, and you never seemed to see him doing a whole lot of enforcing of the law. You saw him having a lot of press conferences, and that's just inappropriate for a director of the FBI. This is somebody who needs to be impartial and needs to be seen to be impartial. And that largely means that he should be doing his job and not trying to tip the scales one way or the other in political races.

GREENE: Well, there are Democrats - there are some Republicans who have spoken very highly of Comey in recent days. And, you know, many Democrats are saying that he was really the one independent person who was doing the most to investigate President Trump and possible ties between his campaign and Russia. I mean, is there a reason for concern here that, in the least, the atmospherics are a president trying to cover up or slow down this investigation of his campaign's possible ties to Russia by firing this guy?

BUSKIRK: I don't think so, David, and here's why. I mean, if the idea is that Donald Trump is trying to slow down this Russian hacking investigation at the FBI, it's an odd way to do it to put Andrew McCabe at the head of the FBI. I mean, Andrew McCabe is going to be there for months at a very minimum. He's a registered Democrat. His wife has deep ties to the Clinton world. I mean, that just doesn't wash. If you think that you're trying to get away with something - if you think you're trying to get somebody who's close to the Trump administration, it's a funny way to do it by putting Andrew McCabe in charge of the investigation, even for a short period of time.

GREENE: But what should we make of - I mean, President Trump initially - I mean, he praised Comey when Democrats were very angry at Comey for the way he handled Hillary Clinton's email investigation. And then we have sort of different stories coming out as this week has gone on. Does the president have a credibility problem?

BUSKIRK: On this issue, no. I mean, look, his core supporters voted for him to go and drain the swamp. He was explicit about that in the campaign. This is why people voted for him, the ones who did. And they saw him - they saw the president as an agent of change. They saw him as a disruptor. And what I'm hearing from people here in Phoenix is, yeah, this sounds like a good start. Firing Comey is just one step towards fulfilling campaign promises of effecting change in Washington. That's what people wanted, and that's what they seem to be getting.

GREENE: It's funny you bring that up because, Chris, I want to play you some voices here if you could bear with me. These are some Trump supporters...


GREENE: ...From different parts of the country. And let's give a listen.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I think that it was a sound decision. I've been really disappointed in how Comey has handled the whole Clinton investigation. He put us through a political volley that I don't think we needed to go through.

JOHN JACKSON: I mean, I was a bit shocked at first. But, you know, if he violated his seat in his office, then it probably would be a valid reason. And I guess we're going to find out more as it goes.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I was surprised it didn't happen sooner. It was the appearance of him flip-flopping and just overstepping what his role is. I don't think Comey being let go, being fired - I don't think that had anything to do with an investigation with Russia.

JACKSON: I don't believe that the Trump campaign has anything to do with the Russians. I'm just over it. I really don't care.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: So far, what it appears that has been going on is a witch hunt, and time will tell.

GREENE: OK. That - Chris, that was John Jackson (ph) of Milledgeville, Ga.; Stephanie Hill (ph) of Las Vegas, Nev.; and Jackie Kolbeck (ph) from Johnstown, Pa.

What do you make of that? What does that tell us about Donald Trump supporters?

BUSKIRK: It tells us that they're getting what they wanted. It tells us that they're looking - they were looking for certain things in this president when they voted for him and that they think that they're getting them. And that is consistent with what I'm hearing from people who are not in politics, people who don't do this all day, every day. You know, I've asked the question of people - is this a D.C. story, or is this a Kansas story? And everybody says the same thing, which is, this is a D.C. story. This is D.C. talking to itself. The rest of the country thinks, OK, you know, an FBI director serves at the pleasure of the president. And he had more than a right to do so - a legal right - but more than that, FBI Director James Comey, former FBI Director Comey seemed to have gotten out over his skis. He was seen to be on both sides of every issue. People don't want to see an FBI director involved in politics on either side of an issue. They want to see him enforcing the law. And as a result of that, I think Comey lost credibility. And when, you know - look, if there are two words that Donald Trump is known for more than anything else, it's you're fired. And...

GREENE: He is.

BUSKIRK: ...When he fires somebody, this isn't a surprise.

GREENE: Although, I suppose we should point out, I mean, overall his approval ratings - not all that great. But the polls do suggest that his hardcore supporters are really sticking with him. Chris Buskirk - he's the editor and publisher of the conservative website American Greatness. Thanks as always. We appreciate it, Chris.

BUSKIRK: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.