Report: Mueller Has Copy Of Trump’s Original Letter Justifying Firing James Comey
The New York Times is reporting that special counsel Robert Mueller has the early draft of a letter justifying the firing of former F.B.I. Director James Comey that was apparently so incendiary that the White House Counsel stepped in to stop President Trump from sending it:
WASHINGTON — The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has obtained a letter that President Trump and a top political aide drafted in the days before Mr. Trump fired the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, which explains the president’s rationale for why he planned to dismiss the director.
The May letter had been met with opposition from Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, who believed that some of its contents were problematic, according to interviews with a dozen administration officials and others briefed on the matter.
Mr. McGahn successfully blocked the president from sending Mr. Comey the letter, which Mr. Trump had composed with Stephen Miller, one of the president’s top political advisers. A different letter, written by the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, and focused on Mr. Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, was ultimately sent to the F.B.I. director on the day he was fired
The contents of the original letter appear to provide the clearest rationale that Mr. Trump had for firing Mr. Comey. The Times has not seen a copy of the letter and it is unclear how much of Mr. Trump’s rationale focuses on the Russia investigation. Mr. Trump told aides at the time he was angry that Mr. Comey refused to publicly say that Mr. Trump himself was not under investigation, something Mr. Comey had told the president privately.
Mr. Comey later confirmed in testimony to Congress in June that he had told the president that he was not under investigation, but said he didn’t make that public because the status could change in the future.
Mr. Mueller is conducting a wide-ranging investigation into Russia and associates of Mr. Trump, including whether the president obstructed justice when he dismissed the F.B.I. director.
The Justice Department turned over a copy of the letter to Mr. Mueller in recent weeks.
Ty Cobb, a White House lawyer, declined to discuss the letter or its contents. “To the extent the special prosecutor is interested in these matters, we will be fully transparent with him,” he said.
Mr. Miller drafted the letter at the urging of Mr. Trump during a weekend in May, when Mr. Trump and his team were at the president’s private golf club in Bedminster, N.J. During that same weekend, as Mr. Trump and a small group of aides were in Bedminster devising a rationale for Mr. Comey’s dismissal, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Mr. Rosenstein were working on a parallel effort to fire Mr. Comey.
It’s been apparent for some time now, that the firing of former Director Comey has become a particular focus of Mueller’s investigation, particularly its potential or actual connection to the then-ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the election and contacts between Russian officials and people close to Trump during the course of the campaign. While it’s unclear what this original draft of the letter may have said, the strong implication appears to be that it gives far different reasons for the decision than the ones the Administration cited when Trump fired Comey just a week after the Director had testified before a Senate Committee, where he confirmed that the Bureau was investigating both attempts by Russia to interfere in the 2016 elections and contacts between Russian officials and Trump campaign officials. At that time, both Trump’s letter to Comey and a memorandum from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that accompanied it, it was claimed that Comey was fired due to his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email and handling of classified information while Secretary of State. It soon became clear, however, that Trump’s real motivation for firing Comey was the Russia investigation. Additionally, while the Rosenstein letter was represented as being something drafted to convince Trump why Comey should be fired, we learned after the fact that Rosenstein already knew that Comey would be fired before he started drafting the letter. Within a week after the firing in May, Trump’s real motivation for firing Comey became clear when he admitted n both a televised interview with NBC News’s Lester Holt and in an Oval Office conversation with the Russian Ambassador and Foreign Minister that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation. Later, we learned that Trump’s attempts to intervene in the Russia investigation extended beyond Comey and included conversations with top intelligence officials about ending the investigation.
As noted, the Times report doesn’t reveal the contents of the original draft of the letter, but one can assume that the justification it presents for firing Comey is far different from the one ultimately presented to the public on May 9th. What’s perhaps most significant is the fact that the White House Counsel felt it necessary to step in to stop Trump from sending the letter, which leads to the assumption that it was so incendiary that it had the potential to damage the President, Administration, and the Presidency. This most likely means that it relied primarily on Trump’s frustrations over the Russia investigation and the fact that Comey would not play along with his requests to drop the investigation or at least release a statement saying that the President was not a target of the investigation. If that’s the case, then the evidence in favor of potential obstruction of justice would seem to be stronger. As it stands, though, we don’t know what this draft says, although I presume we’ll find out soon enough.
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