James Comey Committed 'Atrocities,' White House Says

James Comey
Former FBI Director James Comey arrives to deliver a speech at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., April 26, 2016. Trump's termination of Comey has proved controversial. Carlos Barria/Reuters

Before President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, he had wanted to do so "since the day he was elected," Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during Wednesday's press briefing.

Comey's firing, which the White House blamed on his supposed mishandling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, dominated Wednesday's press briefing. Earlier in the day, Trump clarified the reason for Comey's termination, saying: "He wasn't doing a good job. Very simply. He was not doing a good job."

Sanders offered few new details about the events that led to Comey's firing, but at one point described Comey's handling of the Clinton emails as an example of the "atrocities" he committed as director. "Once you take over leading the department of just, that's very different from being a candidate in a campaign," she said. "I think also having a letter like the one he received and having that conversation that outlined the basic, just, atrocities in circumventing the chain of command in the Department of Justice."

Social media was quickly abuzz with reaction to her use of a term that, according to the United Nations, "refers to three legally defined international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes."

Related: Sean Spicer had a meltdown after Trump fired Comey

Sanders said Trump "lost confidence" in Comey over the past several months, and "most importantly, the rank and file of the FBI lost confidence in their director." This is despite pushback from White House reporters who said FBI employees were actually disappointed in Comey's firing—and a New York Times article detailing the reaction of "stunned" agents. Sanders added that Trump would meet with the acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, later on Wednesday to discuss morale at the bureau.

"The president wanted to give Director Comey a chance, but he feels like he made the right decision," she said.

Sanders denied the idea that the White House had ordered the Justice Department to come up with reasons to fire Comey, as was reported on Tuesday. She also declined to comment on a section in Trump's dismissal letter to Comey that references three occasions the president was allegedly informed by Comey that he is not under investigation by the FBI. "Director Comey relayed that information to the president," she said.

"The saddest thing is that the Democrats are trying to politicize and take away something the president should be doing," Sanders added about the termination.

In a bizarrely timed meeting, meanwhile, Trump on Wednesday morning welcomed Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., and Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, to the White House. U.S. news outlets reportedly were not allowed in the meeting, which was closed to the press; instead, only a Russian news agency, TASS, had access. The New York Times reported that Comey's firing came days after the former FBI director asked the Justice Department for more money and personnel for the Russian investigation.

After the bombshell news of the Comey firing broke on Tuesday night, details emerged about how White House officials scrambled to handle the information. Notably, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was reported by The Washington Post to have been hiding in the bushes before speaking with reporters.