White House Now Denies Report Trump Urged Comey to 'Let Go' of Michael Flynn Investigation
Donald Trump directly asked the former FBI director, James Comey, to drop an investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, according to notes kept at the time by Comey and first reported on Tuesday by the New York Times.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump told Comey, according to Comey’s record of the meeting, as reported by the Times. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
The latest crisis to beset the White House came just 24 hours after the first reports emerged of Trump having shared classified intelligence with Russia during Oval Office talks.
The White House rushed out a statement on Tuesday denying that the president had told Comey to drop his investigation, while acknowledging a “conversation” had happened between Trump and Comey.
“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 White House 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.”
The justice department declined to comment when reached by the Guardian.
By his own description, Comey accepted the president’s judgment of Flynn’s character, saying: “I agree he is a good guy.”
According to his description of events, however, the former FBI director did not consent to ending the bureau’s investigation into possible ties between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign, in which Flynn was a key figure.
Comey’s memo as reported by the New York Times was said to be part of a paper trail he created over a series of interactions with Trump. In one of those meetings, according to sources close to Comey, Trump asked for Comey’s personal loyalty, which the former director denied.
The increasing perception that Trump sought to interfere with the FBI investigation, which is known to have focused on his close associates, if not him personally, is seen as having opened a wide vulnerability for Trump to censure by Congress.
Trump fired Comey last week, in a move the president said was tied to the Russia inquiry. “And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said: ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,’” Trump told NBC News.
The acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, told Congress in testimony last week that the White House had not sought to interfere in the bureau’s investigation.
Senate Republicans – exasperated from another day of questions about their reaction to the latest development in the Trump and Russia saga – were on their way to the last vote series of the evening when they were confronted by a new breaking scandal.
In the middle of a scrum with Republican senator Lindsay Graham, a reporter from CNN held up his phone to show the New York Times story and said: “Can I ask you to read and respond?”
Graham peered at the phone and declined to comment on the article but encouraged Comey to accept his invitation to testify before a congressional committee.
After returning from the vote, Graham told reporters that the story alone was not enough of reason to call for a special prosecutor.
“He needs to come in and tell us why,” Graham said, referring to Comey’s memo. “We’re not going to try someone on a piece of paper.”
Richard Burr, the Republican chairman who is leading the Senate intelligence committee’s investigation into potential ties between Trump and Russia, suggested the steady flow of leaks may be part of an effort to undermine the president.
“I think the burden is on the New York Times, if they’re reporting it and they’ve got somebody who’s got the document,” Burr told reporters. “They need to get the document and get it released.”
Congress holds the power to subpoena documents. Just last week, the Senate intelligence committee issued a subpoena request for documents from Flynn related to Russia that the former national security adviser had refused to provide.
Some Republican members of Congress let their frustrations show. When asked for comment on the latest news from the White House, Darrell Issa of California gave a vulgar hand gesture to a reporter for Politico.
Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, which is conducting its own inquiry into possible Trump-Russia ties, said the numerous reports surrounding Trump and Russia had reached a fever pitch.
“Enough is enough,” he said. “Congress really needs to get to the bottom of this.”
Speaking on the Senate floor in a short impromptu speech, Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said he was “shaken” by the report and warned: “History is watching.”
Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the oversight and government reform committee in the House, said he thought the president had “stepped over the line. Clearly we’ve got a smoking gun and a lot of dark smoke.”
Several additional Republican senators said they still had to read the story and declined to comment further. Senator Ted Cruz said he had only read the headline. “I don’t think it is productive to engage in hypotheticals,” he said.
The Arizona Republican John McCain appearing somewhat flustered at the onslaught of new questions and said he needed to read the story before commenting.
The California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who sits on the Senate intelligence committee, said her reaction to the report was one of “stark surprise and deep concern”.
Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with Democrats, said while obstruction of justice was an impeachable offense, he would not go so far just yet with respect to accusing Trump.
“I’m not ready to declare that a fact at this point,” King, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, told CNN.
“We have to be a little bit cautious. This is of immense importance … We have to be sure we’re accurate and not going off and making conclusions and judgment until we have all the facts.”
Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida who also sits on the Senate intelligence committee, said it was “now inescapable” that Comey must testify before Congress.