Donald Trump Reportedly Asked Comey To Shut Down F.B.I. Investigation Of Michael Flynn
Another day, another allegation against the President. This time, though, it's very, very serious.
The New York Times is reporting that President Trump asked former F.B.I. Director James Comey to drop the investigation of former National Security Adviser Lt. General Michael Flynn and his ties to Russia:
WASHINGTON — President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo that Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.
“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.
The existence of Mr. Trump’s request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia.
Mr. Comey wrote the memo detailing his conversation with the president immediately after the meeting, which took place the day after Mr. Flynn resigned, according to two people who read the memo. The memo was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence an ongoing investigation. An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.
Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of the memo to a Times reporter.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey that Mr. Flynn had done nothing wrong, according to the memo.
Mr. Comey did not say anything to Mr. Trump about curtailing the investigation, only replying: “I agree he is a good guy.”
In a statement, the White House denied the version of events in the memo.
“While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn,” the statement said. “The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”
In testimony to the Senate last week, the acting F.B.I. director, Andrew G. McCabe, said, “There has been no effort to impede our investigation to date.”
A spokesman for the F.B.I. declined to comment.
Mr. Comey created similar memos — including some that are classified — about every phone call and meeting he had with the president, the two people said. It is unclear whether Mr. Comey told the Justice Department about the conversation or his memos.
Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey last week. Trump administration officials have provided multiple, conflicting accounts of the reasoning behind Mr. Comey’s dismissal. Mr. Trump said in a television interview that one of the reasons was because he believed “this Russia thing” was a “made-up story.”
The Feb. 14 meeting took place just a day after Mr. Flynn was forced out of his job after it was revealed he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of phone conversations he had had with the Russian ambassador to the United States.
Despite the conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Comey, the investigation of Mr. Flynn has proceeded. In Virginia, a federal grand jury has issued subpoenas in recent weeks for records related to Mr. Flynn. Part of the Flynn investigation is centered on his financial ties to Russia and Turkey.
Mr. Comey had been in the Oval Office that day with other senior national security officials for a terrorism threat briefing. When the meeting ended, Mr. Trump told those present — including Mr. Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions — to leave the room except for Mr. Comey.
Alone in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, saying that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.
Mr. Trump then turned the discussion to Mr. Flynn.
After writing up a memo that outlined the meeting, Mr. Comey shared it with senior F.B.I. officials. Mr. Comey and his aides perceived Mr. Trump’s comments as an effort to influence the investigation, but they decided that they would try to keep the conversation secret — even from the F.B.I. agents working on the Russia investigation — so the details of the conversation would not affect the investigation.
Mr. Comey was known among his closest advisers to document conversations that he believed would later be called into question, according to two former confidants, who said Mr. Comey was uncomfortable at times with his relationship with Mr. Trump.
Mr. Comey’s recollection has been bolstered in the past by F.B.I. notes. In 2007, he told Congress about a now-famous showdown with senior White House officials over the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. The White House disputed Mr. Comey’s account, but the F.B.I. director at the time, Robert S. Mueller III, kept notes that backed up Mr. Comey’s story.
The Washington Post is reporting the same story:
President Trump asked the FBI to drop its investigation into his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and urged the FBI director James B. Comey instead to pursue reporters in leak investigations, according to private notes taken by Comey, according to people familiar with the matter.
According to a set of notes written by Comey following a February meeting with the president, Trump brought up the counterintelligence investigation into Flynn and urged Comey to drop the probe in the wake of the national security adviser’s resignation.
“I hope you can let this go,” Trump said, according to the Comey notes, which were described by associates. Comey’s written account of the meeting is two pages long and highly detailed, the associates said. The details of Comey’s notes of the meeting were first reported by The New York Times.
Officials have previously said that Trump and his senior staff have been pressing the FBI to prioritize leak investigations over the bureau’s ongoing probe into possible coordination between Russian officials and Trump associates. On Tuesday, people close to the matter said Comey kept detailed notes of his multiple conversations with Trump.
Details of Comey’s notes were shared with a very small circle of people at the FBI and Justice Department, these people said.
Comey’s description of the event make clear his understanding of the conversation was that the president was seeking to impede the investigation, according to people who have read the account or had it read to them, these people said. Comey felt the conversation was improper and decided to keep the details of the conversations away from the case agents working on the Russia probe.
Not surprisingly, the Trump White House is denying this and it’s likely to come down to a question of whether to believe Trump or Comey in this matter. For example, there’s the question of why Comey didn’t make this public months ago, or why he didn’t disclose it to Congress when he was last before a Congressional Committee. These are legitimate questions, and I suppose that it depends on who one is inclined to believe, but the fact that Comey took the step of preparing a memorandum of his conversation with the President certainly seems to add credence to his version of the events. Additionally, reports from other sources are indicating that this may only be one of many memos that Comey created to document conversations that he had the President, and that it was a common practice of his to make such contemporaneous notes of conversations that he believed could be important in the future. While the memoranda don’t per se prove what these reports are claiming they do, they would corroborate what Comey would presumably testify to were he to be subpoenaed to discuss his conversations with the President.
Additionally, all of this also throws many of the events of the past week into a completely new light. Over the past two weeks, we have seen the President fire James Comey, allegedly because of something he did regarding the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server but which Trump later seemingly admitted was motivated primarily by the Russia investigation. We’ve also seen the President essentially threaten Comey with the existence of tapes of their conversations. Then we learned that the President shared classified information with Russia’s Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the United States under circumstances that were, at least, highly questionable even if not per se illegal. Now we have the allegation that the President tried to shut down the investigation of a top adviser and associate in a private conversation with the Director of the F.B.I. To say that we’ve reached a critical point in this Presidency is to put it lightly.
Assuming that this story is true, and that’s something that can be determined in no small part by determining whether or not these memos exist and releasing them to the public and to Congress, then this is perhaps the most serious charge yet against President Trump out of everything that has been alleged over the past two weeks. What we have here is nothing less than an attempt by the President of the United States to obstruct justice by trying to get the Federal Bureau of Investigation to shut down an investigation into one of his closest advisers during the campaign and a man who he had named as his National Security Adviser. Legally, that arguably amounts to obstruction of justice, and it is among the most serious of the charges that were brought against President Nixon, and which would have formed the basis for his impeachment had he not resigned from office in August 1974. It was also one of the Articles of Impeachment that were filed against President Clinton in 1998. This would be true, of course, even if the investigation were something that was utterly unconnected to the President, but the fact that it was makes the conversation that he had all the more inappropriate and potentially illegal. Additionally, while I have largely dismissed much of the talk about impeachment that has been bandied about since Trump took office, it would seem clear that the fact that the President tried to stop an investigation in thi matter certainly comes close to constituting what would and should be considered an impeachable offense. Yes, this is a radical thing to say about a sitting President, but we’ve clearly made our way into the Twilight Zone here.