In an interview on Thursday, President Trump described a dinner with then-FBI chief James Comey soon after he took office. Now the New York Times has a different account, based on people who heard about the January dinner afterward from Comey himself. The big takeaway: Comey said Trump pressed him for a pledge of personal loyalty, and Comey explained that as FBI chief, he couldn't deliver one. What's more, Comey now thinks this foreshadowed his firing months later. By the Times' account, Trump brought up the issue early, asking Comey if he'd pledge his loyalty, but Comey responded that he could instead only promise to be honest with the president. Trump returned to the matter later in the dinner, asking Comey if it would be "honest loyalty," and the FBI chief responded, "You will have that."
The White House is pushing back against this narrative, with a spokesperson saying that Trump "would never even suggest the expectation of personal loyalty, only loyalty to our country and its great people.” CNN, however, also talks to Comey associates who say that his refusal to pledge personal loyalty is one of two reasons he was fired, the other being the widening Russia investigation. NBC News, meanwhile, reports that Comey did not request the dinner, as the president said. Instead, the White House summoned him. Comey was reportedly leery of going but didn't feel like he could turn down a president. The Times notes that Trump has long insisted on loyalty among his business associates and suggests that as a political novice, he wasn't familiar with the tradition that FBI chiefs eschew that. Congress gave them 10-year terms in order to bolster their independence.