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Trump Told Russian Officials Of Link Between Comey’s Firing And Russia Investigation

Trump Russia

The New York Times is reporting that an internal White House document reports that President Trump told Russian officials who visited him in the Oval Office that he fired F.B.I. Director James Comey due to the ‘pressure’ of the Bureau’s Russia investigation:

WASHINGTON — President Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had relieved “great pressure” on him, according to a document summarizing the meeting.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Mr. Trump added, “I’m not under investigation.”

The conversation, during a May 10 meeting — the day after he fired Mr. Comey — reinforces the notion that Mr. Trump dismissed him primarily because of the bureau’s investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russian operatives. Mr. Trump said as much in one televised interview, but the White House has offered changing justifications for the firing.

The White House document that contained Mr. Trump’s comments was based on notes taken from inside the Oval Office and has been circulated as the official account of the meeting. One official read quotations to The Times, and a second official confirmed the broad outlines of the discussion.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, did not dispute the account.

In a statement, he said that Mr. Comey had put unnecessary pressure on the president’s ability to conduct diplomacy with Russia on matters such as Syria, Ukraine and the Islamic State.

“By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia,” Mr. Spicer said. “The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it. Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations.”

A third government official briefed on the meeting defended the president, saying Mr. Trump was using a negotiating tactic when he told Mr. Lavrov about the “pressure” he was under. The idea, the official suggested, was to create a sense of obligation with Russian officials and to coax concessions out of Mr. Lavrov — on Syria, Ukraine and other issues — by saying that Russian meddling in last year’s election had created enormous political problems for Mr. Trump.

The president has been adamant that the meddling did not alter the outcome of the race, but it has become a political cudgel for his opponents.

Many Democrats and some Republicans have raised alarms that the president may have tried to obstruct justice by firing Mr. Comey. The Justice Department’s newly appointed special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, was given the authority to investigate not only potential collusion, but also related allegations, which would include obstruction of justice.

The F.B.I.’s investigation has bedeviled the Trump administration, and the president personally. Mr. Comey publicly confirmed the existence of the investigation in March, telling Congress that his agents were investigating Russian efforts to influence the outcome of the presidential election and whether anyone in the Trump campaign had been involved. Mr. Trump has denied any collusion and called the case a waste of money and time.

This revelation comes on top of two weeks of news in the wake of the President’s initial decision to fire Comey just days after Comey had testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Bureau was indeed investigating both Russian interference in the election and reports about the contacts between people close to Trump and Russian officials. At first, the Administration sought to claim that Comey was fired due to his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server as detailed in a memorandum prepared by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. That memorandum focused primarily on the press conference Comey held last July in which he announced that the investigation would be closed without charges being brought and the letter he sent to Congress in October regarding reopening the investigation due to the discovery of what appeared to be additional emails from that server. As the days went on, though, it became more and more apparent that Comey may have been fired because of the President’s frustration with the Russia investigation, something that Trump himself seemed to confirm by the end of last week. Trump topped off this revelation by appearing to threaten Comey with ‘tapes’ of conversations between the two men, implying that he had some kind of taping system in the White House, something which both Trump and Press Secretary Sean Spicer have refused to comment on. Earlier this week, meanwhile, we learned that Trump had allegedly asked Comey to drop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Lt. General Michael Flynn and that the White House had learned that Flynn was under investigation prior to naming him National Security Adviser.  Additionally, we learned that during this same Oval Office meeting Trump had shared highly classified information apparently obtained from Israel with these same Russian officials, something which has reportedly made Israeli intelligence officials furious on the eve of Trump’s upcoming visit to Israel.

If nothing else this report seems to lend credence to the idea that the memorandum prepared by Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein citing the Clinton email investigation as the reason for Comey’s firing was a mere smokescreen for the real reason that he was fired, which was the President’s growing frustration over the Russia investigation. This would seem to be corroborated by reports yesterday from Senators who met behind closed doors with Rosenstein regarding the matter who later told reporters that Rosenstein knew that Comey would be fired be fired before he ever started drafting the memorandum, a suggestion that the work he was doing was essentially an after the fact effort to come up with a justification for Comey’s firing unrelated to the Russia investigation.

Given all of this, the conclusion that Comey was fired in an effort to impede the Russia investigation would seem to be a natural conclusion. That leads to the rather obvious question of whether it could potentially lead to yet another circumstance that could amount to an attempt to obstruct justice, albeit an attempt that has obviously failed, especially given the decision by Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein to appoint an outside counsel to lead the investigation. The fact that the effort has failed, though, is not really relevant to the question of whether or not the President intended to attempt to quash the Russia investigation when he decided to fire Comey, just that it doesn’t matter that his apparent request in February that Trump made to end the investigation of Michael Flynn didn’t succeed. The crime, or at least potential crime, lies in the attempt and in the intent of the President, and that intent seems clear now from all that has been revealed publicly. Where that leads for the President is something only the future can tell, but it certainly means that the investigation that he sought to bring to an end is only going to expand.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. James Pearce says:

    Polyakov and Gerald discuss the Witchcraft files……

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  2. CSK says:

    “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job.” — Donald Trump

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen or read a more breathtaking example of pure projection than that.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 35 Thumb down 0

  3. Gustopher says:

    And he wonders why people think he, his campaign and his administration are too close to the Russians… surely, that’s all crazy talk, right Vladimir?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  4. gVOR08 says:

    I fired “nut job” Comey and that will take the pressure off. For Lavrov and Sislyak it must have taken every ounce of their considerable self control to not laugh at him.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 0

  5. legion says:

    So, just exactly how many completely distinct and mutually unsupportive bald-faced lies has trump already given to explain Comey’s firing? I have totally lost count.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  6. CSK says:

    @legion:

    I think four…but I could be mistaken. You are quite right that it’s difficult to keep track.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  7. David M says:

    @legion:

    One fewer than it will take for his voters or the GOP to care. Don’t get your hopes up though, it’s always one less.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  8. Joe says:

    “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job.”

    — Donald Trump

    Among the myriad messages this story projects, I focus on the fact that this is how friends talk about enemies or how “cool” insiders talk about outsiders: We are cool. He is not. So I ponder, our POTUS considers top Russian Diplomats as his homeys and the (former) Director of his own FBI as some nerd to bully. Yeah, just wow. Not surprising, but just wow.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 0

  9. JohnMcC says:

    @Joe: I’ve noticed whenever Mr Trump is quoted or recorded in conversation (as opposed to talking into a microphone) that he does seem to use strangely stilted patterns. No doubt there’s vast gaps of culture, class, place and suchlike between him and me. But I’d think someone speaking to me as he seems to speak in chatting is one weird person.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  10. CSK says:

    @Joe:

    Well, he has to prove to them that he’s tough.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  11. Janis Gore says:

    This story is too perfect. I put nearly nothing past this president, but I do wonder if this is one of those sources who likes to lie to see what will be published.

    Spicer has nothing to lose by not disputing it.

    But then, three reporters have their byline on it. And I like and trust Maggie Haberman.

    I’m sorry I quit drinking.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  12. gVOR08 says:

    @gVOR08: Oops, Kislyak.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  13. wr says:

    @James Pearce: Just rereading The Honourable Schoolboy. All about trying to reconstruct British intelligence after the mole. Maybe it’s an instruction manual for next year…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  14. HarvardLaw92 says:
  15. michael reynolds says:

    I think the story that says the FBI is looking at a close WH advisor and connects that to ‘financial crimes’ is probably the more dangerous story to Trump. This just shows him to be the pig we all know he is. But if the Feebs are eyeballing Jared, well, that could be the ball game.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  16. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Well, it is a family tradition. Just saying …

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  17. CSK says:

    The person of interest is “a senior White House adviser, close to Trump.”

    It’s Kushner.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  18. Janis Gore says:

    The May 29 Time reports that Steve Bannon and Breitbart are being looked at for ties to Russian fronts.

    Cambridge Analytica is also being looked at, they say.

    It’s an article worth reading, provides a little history of sophisticated Russian meddling.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  19. gVOR08 says:

    Cambridge Analytica is also being looked at, they say.

    That’s Mercer. That’d be bigger than Bannon, or even Jared.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  20. Janis Gore says:

    Still nothing illegal, though, I don’t think. We really need an independent commission so information is public. Bastard Congress.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  21. michael reynolds says:

    @Janis Gore:
    Oh goodie! It’d be excellent to take down the White House Nazis, too.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  22. Barry says:

    @gVOR08: “I fired “nut job” Comey and that will take the pressure off. For Lavrov and Sislyak it must have taken every ounce of their considerable self control to not laugh at him.”

    They’re Russians. Keeping a straight face is genetic; those who couldn’t were killed many decades ago.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  23. Barry says:

    @gVOR08: “I fired “nut job” Comey and that will take the pressure off. For Lavrov and Sislyak it must have taken every ounce of their considerable self control to not laugh at him.”

    They’re Russians. Keeping a straight face is genetic; those who couldn’t were killed many decades ago.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  24. MarkedMan says:

    So I think it’s worth asking: How would Trump behave if he was owned by the Russians and found himself elected President?

    Especially once he found that every conversation, every memo, every utterance is recorded. How would he communicate to those who owned him? He might try to keep his personal phone (check). But I think even he would realize that calls could be traced, if not recorded.

    It makes sense that he would try to arrange meetings through intermediaries. Perhaps Jared could go talk to that Russian Banker, the one that heads the bank that Americans are forbidden to do business with? (check). But maybe then Jared gets cold feet.

    Just speculation. But let’s say he does something that he thinks is brilliant, but then it blows up in his face. Jared won’t talk to the Russians. He can’t make his usual phone calls. How can he communicate?

    So after firing Comey, and amid the resultant accusations flying about Russian cooption, if Trump was innocent, he would have cancelled or at least delayed the meeting with the Russians. But let’s say that a) he is a stupid, inept clod (check) b) a desperately needy individual that requires constant stroking, and c) he is alone and terrified about what the Russians have on him. Being who he is, the need to communicate would be overwhelming. So despite all the bad optics, he would have the meeting. He would exclude the American press. He would use the opportunity to convey to his Russian owners that he has everything under control. And being the pathetic loser he is, he would fairly grovel at their feet trying to get them to approve of him as a tough guy. (Check, check, check and check)

    Just saying.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  25. Janis Gore says:

    Here’s something from David Corn about Republicans’ fear of Trump in Mother Jones, which is why we’re unlikely to see an independent commission.

    Jeff Sessions is also well known as a nasty political enemy.

    I worry about Fox and Limbaugh and social media as this whole affair heats up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  26. Janis Gore says:

    And here’s Sessions at work.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. Janis Gore says:

    I don’t want Trump removed. I think he’s far less harmful than Pence, or God forbid, Paul Ryan.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  28. Argon says:

    Boy, that Trump is an awesome negotiator.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  29. HarvardLaw92 says:

    In other news, it appears to be official:

    Callista f’kn Gingrich is set to be nominated as our next ambassador to the Holy See.

    This shitshow just gets better (or worse …) by the minute :roll:

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  30. michael reynolds says:

    Imagine Air Force One right now. Jared’s wetting himself. Trump is raging like a tiny-hooved bull. McMasters asking himself how he managed to destroy a lifelong reputation in five minutes. Spicer brooding in a corner while Trump throws the occasional insult his way. Melania in the suite praying to God the old carcass doesn’t want to f-ck.

    At least some of the leakers are right there with them on that plane, and they all know it. There is a spy in the room.

    And they all know they may be talking to the FBI soon. They all know they could be looking at crippling legal bills. May do time. All for this cretin they don’t even like, and if you doubt that, compare the leakage rate in this White House to Obama’s. This isn’t even leakage, it’s sinkage.

    Trump’s got a pile of homework to do and he’s doing none of it. I doubt he feels fear so much as impotent rage. I doubt he’s smart or honest enough to sense the noose tightening. He always gets away with it, always has. But he’s mad as hell because little Donny still gets no respect. Expect something reckless.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  31. Mr. Bluster says:

    We used to have a better class of criminal. When a president obstructed justice, he didn’t brag about it. He would try to hide it. Cover it up a little…
    I would say the White House staff has turned on the president in a big way. You not only have some Deepthroat deep in the administration somewhere like Watergate, it seems like there are squads of Deepthroats!
    David Brooks NPR

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  32. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: If Jared were to roll over on Trump, which way would Ivanka swing, do you think?

    The only downside to it turning out to be Jared is how much pleasure it will bring to Chris Christie…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  33. wr says:

    @CSK: “The person of interest is “a senior White House adviser, close to Trump.” It’s Kushner.”

    From this description, it could be Putin…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  34. CSK says:

    @MarkedMan:

    That was just about perfect.

    @michael reynolds:

    Outstanding scenario.

    @wr:

    I’d laugh but it’s too scary.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  35. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Mr. Trump added, “I’m not under investigation.”

    You are now, Mr President.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. michael reynolds says:

    @wr:
    Somehow I expect this all to come down to a sort of King Lear scenario, with Trump raging at unfaithful daughters and betrayal on all sides.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  37. CSK says:
  38. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: Will Ivanka turn out to be a bigger snake than Dad? There’s a plot twist. We all know she’s the smart, cool one — maybe she’s pure evil, as well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  39. CSK says:

    @wr: If it comes to her having to choose between her husband and her father, it will be interesting to see what her pick is.

    I don’t think Jared is a stand-up guy. If he’s offered a deal, he’ll spill.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  40. michael reynolds says:

    @wr:

    If you or I were writing this? No question about it, we’d use Ivanka as our big twist. It was the pretty, sensible-seeming one all along! Take that, M. Night Shyamalan.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  41. michael reynolds says:

    @wr:

    BTW and way off topic, you don’t happen to know any underemployed comedy writers do you? I have two ideas I’m gestating, both requiring someone who can write actual jokes. I can do witty, I cannot do jokes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0