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