A second consecutive day of bombshell stories sent the Trump administration scrambling after the New York Times reported Tuesday that President Trump implored FBI Director James Comey to drop the bureau’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia at a February meeting.
The White House issued a response minutes after the story posted to the Times website, denying the president ever made such a request.
According to the Times report, which has since been confirmed by multiple news outlets, Trump broached the subject of the investigation into Flynn’s ties with Russia and asked Comey to “let this go.”
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey that Mr. Flynn had done nothing wrong, according to the memo.
Mr. Comey did not say anything to Mr. Trump about curtailing the investigation, only replying: “I agree he is a good guy.”
The president abruptly fired Comey last week, citing his handling of the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails as the trigger for the surprise move.
The White House, in its swiftly issued response to the Times report on Flynn, denied the account, stating Trump never asked the FBI to drop its probe.
“While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country,” read the statement, “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 Washington Post confirmed the report, saying that Comey felt the conversation was “improper.” From the Post’s report:
Comey’s description of the event make clear his understanding of the conversation was that the president was seeking to impede the investigation, according to people who have read the account or had it read to them, these people said. Comey felt the conversation was improper and decided to keep the details of the conversations away from the case agents working on the Russia probe.
Cable news pundits and social media were quick to suggest that, if true, the allegations would come close to constituting obstruction of justice.
Richard Painter, who served as White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush, tweeted after the initial report was published that “an express or implied threat to fire Comey if he did not drop the Flynn investigation would have been obstruction of justice.”
Lawmakers also swiftly reacted to the stunning news.
“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,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., told reporters Tuesday evening. “They need to get the document and get it released.
“The country is being tested in unprecedented ways,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on the floor Tuesday evening. “I say to all my colleagues in the Senate: History is watching.”
“Enough is enough,” said Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. “Congress needs to get to the bottom of this.”
It was the second time in as many days the White House was forced to scramble, following Monday’s Washington Post report that Trump had divulged previously classified intelligence to Russian officials at the White House last week.
NBC News intelligence and national security reporter Ken Dilanian said he had a source confirm the line “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Flynn’s lawyer, Robert Kelner, declined to comment on the story.
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