Updated at 9:10 p.m. ET
President Trump asked then-FBI Director James Comey to close down the agency’s investigation into his former national security adviser Michael Flynn just one day after Flynn was let go.
An associate of Comey’s who is familiar with the matter confirms that the former FBI director memorialized the conversation with Trump in a memo he wrote immediately after their Oval Office conversation on February 14. The news was first reported by the New York Times.
Comey — who was fired one week ago by Trump amid the FBI investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia — wrote in the February memo that Trump asked for the investigation of Flynn to go away — to which Comey gave a non-response response. Then he left and wrote detailed notes, according to the source.
“It was an ask” not a command, the source said. A small number of FBI agents were made aware of the memo and the conversation, and agents kept working on the investigation.
A second Comey associate told NPR that Comey wrote notes for his files after several conversations with Trump.
“He was concerned,” the second source said.
“‘I hope you can let this go,'” Trump told Comey of the Flynn investigation, the same source said.
Flynn was fired on February 13 after it was revealed he had misled Vice President Pence about his conversations with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak about U.S. sanctions recently imposed on Russia; Flynn had been speaking with Kislyak during the transition period between Election Day and Trump’s inauguration.
Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who was also fired by Trump after she refused to defend his travel ban, testified last week before Congress that she had told the White House more than two weeks before Flynn was asked to resign that he had been “compromised with respect to the Russians” because he had misled Pence.
Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena for Flynn’s “documents relevant to the Committee’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 elections.”
Flynn has sought immunity from the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, with his lawyer saying in a statement in March that, “General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit.”
Comey’s bombshell account of the February conversation is the latest headache for a White House increasingly in turmoil. On Monday, The Washington Post reported that Trump had revealed “highly classified information” to two top Russian diplomats — Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov — whom he met with in the Oval Office last Wednesday, the day after firing Comey, in a shocking display of puzzling optics.
And amid the bubbling crises, Trump is set to depart at the end of the week on his first foreign trip as president, traveling to a NATO meeting in Brussels, Belgium; a G7 meeting in Italy; Saudi Arabia; the Vatican; and Israel — the country whose intelligence about an ISIS plot to use laptops on airplanes Trump reportedly breached protocol by sharing with the Russians.
A White House official denied The Times’ report about Trump’s conversation with Comey in a statement:
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.
The FBI said they have no comment on the Times story.
Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who took over last week after Comey was fired, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week that, “There has been no effort to impede our investigation to date.”
Comey has a history of memorializing controversial conversations and issues — he did so during the George W. Bush administration, where he served as deputy attorney general, with respect to those controversial “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the CIA on terror detainees in the wake of 9/11. He sent memos to his chief of staff that surfaced years later in The Times.
Trump fired Comey last week, with the White House initially claiming it was because of a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that concluded Comey had mishandled the investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
But Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt days later that he was going to fire Comey regardless of Rosenstein’s memo, and that is was, indeed, in part, because of the ongoing Russia investigation, which Trump has dismissed as a “hoax.”
“When I decided to just do it [fire Comey],” Trump told Holt. “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 they should have won.”
Trump also claimed in his letter firing Comey that the FBI director had told him on three separate occasions that he was not under investigation. He also tweeted on Friday suggesting he has secret recordings of his conversations with Comey, though the White House has since repeatedly refused to confirm or deny whether any such tapes actually exist.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, sent a letter Tuesday evening to McCabe requesting all “memoranda, notes, summaries, and recordings referring or relating” to communications between Comey and Trump. Chaffetz set a deadline of no later than May 24 for the FBI to provide the materials to the committee.
“We need to have all the facts, and it is appropriate for the House Oversight Committee to request this memo,” House Speaker Paul Ryan’s spokeswoman AshLee Strong also said in a statement.
Democrats immediately pounced on The Times’ report and called on their GOP colleagues to push for the truth from the White House.
“Concerns about our national security, the rule of law, the independence of our nation’s highest law enforcement agencies are mounting,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor shortly after the Times story broke. “The country is being tested in unprecedented ways. I say to all of my colleagues in the Senate, history is watching.”
“If these reports are true, the President’s brazen attempt to shut down the FBI’s investigation of Michael Flynn is an assault on the rule of law that is fundamental to our democracy. At best, President Trump has committed a grave abuse of executive power. At worst, he has obstructed justice,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in a statement.
In response to the news of Comey’s memo, more House Republicans on Tuesday evening called for a combination of White House briefings and public testimony from the former FBI director to assess the scope of the situation.
“I think Director Comey should testify before Congress as soon as possible,” Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., a moderate lawmaker from a swing district said Tuesday evening.
When asked if he was concerned that Trump could hurt his reelection prospects, Lance replied: “I’m confident that I represent the views of the overwhelming majority of my constituents.”
“Obviously, we want a briefing from the White House,” said House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., “I don’t know that it’s important to have Comey testify, but it is important to get to the bottom of it. We’ve got one standard and we need to make sure that applies to everybody.”
Meadows also told reporters that if memos exist, Congress should have access to them. “I just want to understand it better. It’s one thing to have to have the New York Times report it, it’s another to be able to look at what it is,” he said.
The president’s loyalists on Capitol Hill echoed the White House’s attacks on the media to question the latest revelation.
“What seems overwhelmingly clear to me is that the White House is besieged by a spectrum of the media dedicated to the far left that is relentlessly committed to doing everything they can to delegitimize this president. So that alone sometimes calls into question almost all of these discussions,” said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz.
However, Franks also said he would like Comey to testify. “I think it would be great,” he said, “I’m someone who has always believed in sunlight, and that clarity is our friend, and truth is the best ally.”
As reporters huddled off the House floor questioning GOP lawmakers about the Comey memos, another staunch Trump loyalist, Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Texas, walked by and entered the elevator as he quipped: “Almost sounds like fake news.”
Overlooked in The Times report: Trump also reportedly told Comey that he “should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information.”
Geoff Bennett contributed to this report.