President Donald Trump asked former FBI Director James Comey to shut down his bureau’s investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a request that Comey documented in a memo, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.
The news came one week after Trump suddenly fired Comey from his position as FBI Director which set off a firestorm in Washington. The FBI has been probing whether Trump campaign representatives, including Flynn, colluded with Russian operatives to influence the US presidential election. Trump had stated in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt days after the termination that he was thinking about “this Russia thing” when he decided to fire Comey.
Trump made the request during a meeting with Comey in the Oval Office in February, one day after Flynn stepped down as national security adviser, according to the New York Times. NBC News, CNN, and the Washington Post also corroborated the Times’ reporting.
The White House denied that Trump asked Comey “to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn.”
“The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations,” the White House said in a statement. “This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”
Comey supposedly wrote the unclassified memo as “part of a paper trail” documenting what he saw as Trump’s improper attempts to influence the probe, according to the Times. The newspaper did not obtain a copy of the memo, but cited two unnamed sources who read it. An unnamed associate of Comey’s also read parts of the memo to a Times reporter.
According to the New York Times and CNN, Comey visited the Oval Office on Feb. 14 to brief Trump and other senior officials including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Vice President Mike Pence. When the briefing was over, Trump asked everybody to leave except for Comey, and then made his request. The Times reported that Trump said to Comey, “I hope you can let this go,” “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump said, as quoted in the report. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
The two unnamed sources told the Times that Comey similarly documented every phone call and meeting he had with Trump, although some of those materials are classified. Comey shared the memo about Trump’s request regarding the Flynn investigation with close associates and senior officials at the FBI, according to the Times’ report. The Washington Post also reported that Comey also shared the memo with a select circle at the Justice Department.
According to Comey’s account, Trump made the request to quash the Flynn probe about two weeks after a dinner where he reportedly asked Comey to pledge loyalty to him. Comey declined to pledge anything but “honesty,” the New York Times reported last week, citing sources close to the ousted FBI director. While the White House denied these allegations, Trump later said he did not think it would be inappropriate to ask an FBI director for “loyalty.” “I don’t think it would be a bad question to ask,” Trump said, though he insisted he “didn’t ask that question.”
If memos do exist documenting Trump’s urging of the FBI to “let go” an investigation into Flynn, then it could be viewed that the President was interfering with an active investigation, which could lead to obstruction of justice charges, or even impeachment.