Exactly one week after President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, the White House is battling reports that the president asked Comey to end the investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
A bombshell report in The New York Times on Tuesday says Trump made the request of Comey during a February meeting in the Oval Office. Comey reportedly detailed the meeting in a memo, which an associate shared with the newspaper. Flynn, who was ousted from his job in February, is one of several Trump associates under FBI investigation over potential ties to Russia.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” the president told Comey, according to the memo, the Times and NBC reported. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment to HuffPost Tuesday evening on whether Sessions had seen the memo at the time, or if he was aware of what Trump reportedly told Comey.
The White House, in a statement to HuffPost, denied events described 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 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.
“Also please note that the Acting Director McCabe said last week that the WH had not interfered in the investigation,” the White House statement added.
Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that “there has been no effort to impede our investigation to date.”
“It is my opinion and belief that the FBI will continue to pursue this investigation vigorously and completely,” McCabe said.
Trump himself has also denied asking Comey to drop the Russia investigation.
Tuesday’s revelation is the latest in a series of damaging news reports that have sent the White House in a “downward spiral,” as Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) put it on Monday.
A report Monday in The Washington Post report revealed that Trump had disclosed “highly classified information” about a new plot by the Islamic State group to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. The administration received the intelligence from a U.S. ally, reportedly Israel.
That report sparked confusion and concern on both sides of the aisle, as lawmakers questioned the president’s ability to handle sensitive intelligence.
Trump all but confirmed the report in a series of tweets Tuesday morning, proclaiming he has the “absolute right” to disclose any information he pleases, classified or not.
Last week, the White House was in turmoil amid fallout from Trump’s abrupt decision to fire Comey, one day after former acting attorney general Sally Yates told a Senate panel she had warned a top Trump official that Flynn was “compromised” and “could essentially be blackmailed” by the Russians.
To justify the firing, the administration at first cited a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein criticizing Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.
Then, the White House said the president had been unimpressed with Comey’s “performance,” as top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway put it. Trump himself said the FBI director “was not doing a good job.”
In an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt the next day, Trump cited “the Russia thing” as a consideration before deciding to fire Comey.
“I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it,” Trump said. “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, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election.’”
That same day, the The New York Times reported that Trump asked Comey to pledge his “loyalty” during a private dinner on Jan. 27. Comey said he could only offer “honesty,” according to the report.
Amid intense scrutiny over the decision, including calls from lawmakers for a special prosecutor to investigate potential collusion, Trump lashed out on Twitter, and implied he had taped his conversations with the then-FBI director.
Republicans called on Trump to release any tapes that may exist.
Following Trump’s threat, former Justice Department staffers warned that Comey had previously left paper trails to inform other FBI officials of misconduct, and was likely to do so again:
Comey’s memos on his meetings with the president appear to be similarly protective. According to The Washington Post’s account, Comey’s two-page Feb. 14 memo is “highly detailed.” The paper said details from those memos were only shared with a “very small circle” of FBI and Justice Department officials.
Flynn was forced to resign from his White House post in February after it was revealed he had discussed sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the U.S. before Trump’s inauguration. Several other Trump associates also are said to be under FBI investigation for possible ties to Russia.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats immediately raised concerns about the reported Comey memo.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he was “shaken.”
“The country is being tested in unprecedented ways. I say to all of my colleagues in the Senate: history is watching,” Schumer said in a short speech on the Senate floor.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, said he “remained concerned” about allegations Trump revealed classified secrets, and said the latest report warranted further investigation by lawmakers.
“If true, this is yet another disturbing allegation that the president may have engaged in some interference or obstruction of the investigation,” Schiff said at a press briefing on Capitol Hill.
Schiff added that he would like to bring Comey back to testify in an open House session to “share what he knows.”
But impeachment would require action from Republicans, who for the most part stayed quiet as the news unfolded.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said he was “ready” to subpoena the memo if necessary.
John McCain (R-Ariz.), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, responded while attending the International Republican Institute’s 2017 Freedom Dinner.
Trump’s campaign, meanwhile, quickly seized on a prime fundraising opportunity. An email to the president’s supporters on Tuesday alleged he is being subjected to deliberate “sabotage” by the government bureaucracy.
“You already knew the media was out to get us,” the email read. “But sadly it’s not just the fake news … There are people within our own unelected bureaucracy that want to sabotage President Trump and our entire America First movement.”