One of the president's senior advisers made the rounds on news shows on Monday, April 16 to defend him following a bombshell interview that aired Sunday night with former FBI Director James Comey. Kellyanne Conway's comments about Comey on ABC's Good Morning America are the latest jaw-dropping remarks about him out of the White House. On air, Conway seemingly said that Comey's actions leading up to the 2016 presidential election tipped the election to Donald Trump.
"This guy swung an election," Conway told Stephanopoulos. "He thought the wrong person would win. People in his household wanted the other person to win." Conway said later that she meant the comments as a joke.
Conway made another similar statement about Comey's role in the election on CNN's New Day Monday, but it was more clearly meant as a sarcastic remark. Speaking to host Chris Cuomo, she said, "I saw Jim Comey last night and I said, 'This guy swung an election? I don't think so.'" It's unclear given the disparity in the two interviews how she intended to convey Comey's role in the election.
Conway also told The Daily Beast about the comment, "I rolled my eyes and said ‘Really, this guy swung an election?’ It was sarcastic."
Comey headed the FBI while it was investigating Hillary Clinton for her use of private emails for classified material, which began in July 2015. By July 2016, Comey declared her exonerated of any wrongdoing. But in a letter to Congress on October 28 — just days before the election — Comey stated that he had decided to reopen the investigation to account for new batches of Clinton's emails. On November 2, 2016, he reiterated his previous statement that she shouldn't be charged criminally, but the news of the investigation had already weakened her campaign. According to FiveThirtyEight, though it wasn't the standalone reason she lost, Comey's letter probably cost Clinton the election.
But the last person anyone might expect to say this is Conway, who along with the Trump team at large has repeatedly said that the Comey letter wasn't the reason he won. So her comments about swinging the election on Monday came out of left-field, especially as many people missed the reported sarcasm. You can see it for yourself here:
Many on Twitter appeared astounded that Conway would seem to openly imply that Trump's victory was in fact thanks to Comey's disclosure.
"Whoa. Kellyanne seems to say Trump wouldn’t have won without the Comey announcement 11 days out," Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol tweeted.
"Wait, so you admit that Comey “swung [the] election” to Trump?!!!" tweeted New York Times columnist Charles Blow.
".@KellyannePolls being so hell bent on attacking Comey that she admits that Comey tipped the election to Trump is just perfect," tweeted CNN contributor Dan Pfeiffer.
Conway was forced to explain her humor on Monday morning. In tweets following her news spots, she claimed that her comments about Comey swinging the election were meant facetiously. "Hillary, not Comey, is why Hillary lost," Conway wrote in response to a tweet by Cuomo. He said that Conway, on the show, was "clearly being sarcastic about the idea comey could swing an election."
During the CNN interview, Conway said that the FBI was biased and helping Clinton leading up to the election by closing the investigation, but then added that Clinton was already losing anyways. Cuomo interjected, "Well you can't have it both ways."
Conway's comments about Comey on GMA on Monday, taken at face value, seem to contradict how she felt about him leading up to the 2016 election. In fact, Conway seems to have gone hot and cold on Comey numerous times.
Conway appeared to support Comey when, the summer before the election, she tweeted that the FBI's investigation of Clinton harmed her chances at becoming president. "Media admit Hillary's credibility gap WIDENED after Comey presser," Conway wrote in July 2016, sharing a Washington Post article.
But in September 2016, she appears to have turned cold on Comey, citing a Wall Street Journal article and tweeting, "Zero accountability. 'When combined, these moments prove that Mr. Comey gave Hillary Clinton a pass.'"
Then the next month, Conway was again positive towards Comey, defending him the day after he released his letter to Congress. "Astonished by the all-out assault on Comey by Team Clinton," she tweeted. "Suggesting he is a partisan interfering with the election is dangerous & unfair."
Her support of Comey continued, and on November 6, 2016 — just two days before the election — she again defended him in a tweet. On Twitter, political author Brian Klaas called out the contradiction between that tweet and her position now.
As RawStory points out, Conway's boldness only continued during the GMA interview on April 16, as Stephanopoulos cut her off after making false claim about Comey's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the investigation.
Conway's mention of Comey's potential role in the outcome of the election seems to have been taken up by the president as well. Shortly after Conway's GMA appearance Monday, Trump tweeted about Comey and the election, too. "Comey drafted the Crooked Hillary exoneration long before he talked to her (lied in Congress to Senator G)," Trump tweeted, "then based his decisions on her poll numbers. Disgruntled, he, McCabe, and the others, committed many crimes!"
Conway's record on Comey over the years has apparently zigzagged, but lesson learned: Sarcasm doesn't always come across as intended.