Trump asked Comey to shut down investigation of Michael Flynn -source

By Reuters/Mark Hosenball and Susan Cornwell   May 17, 2017 | 08:10 am GMT+7
Trump asked Comey to shut down investigation of Michael Flynn -source
U.S. President Donald Trump (L), on February 28, 2017, White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (C), February 13, 2017 and FBI Director James Comey in Washington U.S. on July 7, 2016. Photo by Reuters/Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool, Carlos Barria, Gary Cameron/File Photo

“I hope you can let this go,” Trump told Comey, according to a source familiar with the contents of the memo.

U.S. President Donald Trump asked then-FBI Director James Comey to end the agency's investigation into ties between former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn and Russia, according to a source who has seen a memo written by Comey.

The explosive new development on Tuesday followed a week of tumult at the White House after Trump fired Comey and then discussed sensitive national security information about Islamic State with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The Comey memo, first reported by the New York Times, caused alarm on Capitol Hill and raised questions about whether Trump tried to interfere with a federal investigation.

The White House quickly denied the report, saying in a statement it was "not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey."

Comey wrote the memo after he met in the Oval Office with Trump, the day after the Republican president fired Flynn on Feb. 14 for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the extent of his conversations last year with Russia's ambassador, Sergei Kislyak.

“I hope you can let this go,” Trump told Comey, according to a source familiar with the contents of the memo.

The New York Times said that during the Oval Office meeting, Trump condemned a series of government leaks to the news media and said the FBI director should consider prosecuting reporters for publishing classified information.

trump-asked-comey-to-shut-down-investigation-of-michael-flynn-source

Former FBI Director James Comey. Photo by Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Coming the day after charges that Trump disclosed sensitive information to the Russians last week, the new disclosure further rattled members of Congress.

"The memo is powerful evidence of obstruction of justice and certainly merits immediate and prompt investigation by an independent special prosecutor," said Democratic U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers said they wanted to see the memo.

Republican U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz, chairman of a House of Representatives oversight committee, said his committee "is going to get the Comey memo, if it exists. I need to see it sooner rather than later. I have my subpoena pen ready."

Legal questions

Legal experts took a dim view of Trump's comments, as quoted in the memo.

"For the president to tell the FBI to end a potential criminal investigation, that's obstruction of justice," said Erwin Chereminsky, a constitutional law professor and dean of University of California, Irvine School of Law. "This is what caused President Nixon to resign from office."

But the experts said intent was a critical element of an obstruction of justice charge, and the president’s words could be subject to interpretation and possibly put into the context of other actions, like Comey’s termination.

The fact that the president apparently said he “hoped” Comey would end the Flynn investigation rather than more directly ordering it “makes for a weaker but still viable case,” said Christopher Slobogin, a criminal law professor at Vanderbilt University Law School.

Flynn's resignation came hours after it was reported that the Justice Department had warned the White House weeks earlier that Flynn could be vulnerable to blackmail for contacts with Kislyak before Trump took office on Jan. 20.

Kislyak was with Lavrov at the White House when Trump disclosed the sensitive information.

A spokeswoman for the FBI declined to comment on the details of the memo.

An emailed fundraising appeal by Trump's political organization and the Republican National Committee sent out after reports of the Comey memo said Trump was being victimized by an "unelected bureaucracy."

"You already knew the media was out to get us," it said. "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."

The new development came as Republican and Democratic lawmakers pressured Trump to give a fuller explanation for why he revealed sensitive intelligence information to Lavrov.

The information had been supplied by a U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State militant group, the officials said.
 

U.S. lawmakers want to see Comey memo on Trump meeting

Lawmakers on Tuesday called for more information after reports that President Donald Trump asked then-FBI Director James Comey to drop an investigation of former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The White House said a memo written by Comey after he met with Trump in February was not an accurate portrayal of the conversation. Details of the memo were first reported by the New York Times and confirmed by a Reuters source.

Last week, the Republican president fired Comey, who had been leading an investigation into the Trump 2016 presidential campaign's possible collusion with Russia to influence the election outcome.

Flynn resigned in February after disclosures that he had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador to the United States before Trump took office and misled Vice President Mike Pence about the conversations.

Media reports of the Comey memo prompted members of Congress to renew calls for an independent investigation into the Trump campaign's possible connections to Russia and for Comey to testify before Congress.

Here are reactions from Capitol Hill:

"@GOPoversight is going to get the Comey memo, if it exists. I need to see it sooner rather than later. I have my subpoena pen ready."

- Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on Twitter

"This is an explosive allegation and it appears like a textbook case of criminal obstruction of justice. We need to hear testimony immediately from Director Comey - in public ... We also obviously need to get Director Comey’s memos immediately, as well as all associated records, including any audio tapes, and notes, if they exist."

 

- Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings in a statement

"I don't want to read a memo. I want to hear it from him (Comey)."

- Republican Senator Lindsey Graham in an MSNBC interview

"The memo is powerful evidence of obstruction of justice and certainly merits immediate and prompt investigation by an independent special prosecutor. If there were ever a final nail on the case for an independent, special prosecutor this is it."

- Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal to reporters

"I have to say yes simply because obstruction of justice is such a serious offense. And I say it with sadness and reluctance."

- Independent Senator Angus King, asked on CNN if Congress was getting close to impeachment proceedings

"We're a long ways from a conviction - the fact that we simply have a headline in the New York Times."

- Republican Representative Trey Gowdy on Fox News

"If true, this is yet another disturbing allegation that the president may have engaged in some interference or obstruction of the investigation. I think we know enough now. There's been enough alleged publicly to want to bring the director back to testify, ideally in open session, either before our committee or the Judiciary Committee."

- Democratic Representative Adam Schiff to reporters

"Country must have answers. It is clear former FBI Director Comey should testify before Congress."

- Republican Representative Frank LoBiondo on Twitter

"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."

- Democratic Representative Nancy Pelosi in a statement

"I’m shocked and surprised by this development and would like to discuss it with Chairman Grassley and look forward to doing so. The Judiciary Committee is the appropriate place to hold a hearing and get to the bottom of exactly what was said and by whom.”

- Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein in a statement

"The stories of the last week raise serious questions about whether the president respects the independence of the FBI and law enforcement authorities. It is vital that Congress obtain these memos and hear public testimony from former Director Comey ... The American people deserve answers about President Trump’s conduct.”