President Donald Trump asked FBI Director James Comey in February to drop an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, according to a person who was given a copy of a memo Comey wrote following his Oval Office conversation with Trump.
The revelation deepened a political crisis for Trump’s White House by introducing the possibility that the president may have obstructed justice, an impeachable offense. His administration is already reeling from criticism of his firing of Comey a week ago and a report Monday that Trump revealed sensitive and highly classified intelligence to two Russian diplomats.
Comey didn’t directly respond to Trump’s request, which he made a day after firing Flynn for allegedly deceiving the vice president about contacts with the Russian ambassador, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Comey prepared the account immediately after his meeting with the president, and sent copies of the memo to FBI leadership and to some of his closest associates. The New York Times was first to report on the memo Tuesday.
“I hope you can let this go,” Trump told the FBI director, according to the memo, as cited by the New York Times.
The White House denied the version of events described in Comey’s memo. Trump “has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn” and the description in the purported memo “is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey,” the White House said in an e-mailed statement.
No White House spokesman would make an on-the-record comment in the immediate aftermath of the disclosure.
Comey wrote the memo to document the conversation with Trump because he was uneasy about the president’s request, even though the FBI director didn’t consider it a direct threat, said the person who received a copy of the memo. Trump said to Comey that Flynn was a good guy, to which Comey agreed, the person said.
It wasn’t immediately clear who within the FBI received or saw the memo, or whether acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe was among them. The White House has pointed to testimony that McCabe gave to lawmakers last week saying there has been no effort to impede the FBI’s probe.
The FBI’s investigation is broader than just Flynn, and it’s possible McCabe was referring to the overall probe, the person said.
The chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz, wrote a letter to McCabe on Tuesday demanding that he provide by May 24 all FBI memos and other records documenting communications between Comey and Trump.
FBI spokeswoman Carol Cratty declined to comment.
“If true, these memoranda raise questions as to whether the president attempted to influence or impede the FBI’s investigation as it relates to Lt. Gen. Flynn,” Chaffetz wrote.
The revelation added to tension in financial markets already reacting to concerns about the Trump administration. The yen jumped 0.4 percent to 112.69 per dollar in early trading in Tokyo. Futures on the S&P 500 dropped 0.3 percent, after the benchmark U.S. stock index slipped 0.1 percent in U.S. trading.
The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index slipped Tuesday to the lowest level since November on reports the president revealed sensitive intelligence to Russian officials.
Even before disclosure of the memo, key Republicans were showing fatigue with the president’s political problems. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Corker said Monday that the White House is “in a downward spiral.” The usually circumspect Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell said Tuesday morning the party needs “less drama” from the president.
Some Republicans began to press for a more robust investigation of the White House.
Representative Carlo Curbelo, a Florida Republican, said Congress should have a special select committee focused on Trump and Russian interference in the 2016 election because the administration “needs to be held accountable.”
“We need to have all the facts, and it is appropriate for the House Oversight Committee to request this memo,” AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, said in a statement.
Yet Arizona Republican Representative Trent Franks defended Trump.
“If his objective was to see that Flynn got a square deal then I think that’s entirely appropriate,” Franks said. “I don’t think he intended to obstruct justice.”
Several Democrats said the allegation, if verified, amounted to obstruction of justice, a crime that was among the articles of impeachment drawn up against Richard Nixon. Nixon resigned office in 1974, engulfed by the Watergate scandal.
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Judiciary Committee, called the memo as reported “powerful evidence of obstruction of justice.”
“If there were ever a final nail on the case for an independent prosecutor, this is it,” Blumenthal said at the Capitol. “And there’s more behind it. There are other memos.”
He and other Democrats said Comey must testify before lawmakers about his conversations with the president.
“At best, President Trump has committed a grave abuse of executive power,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said in a statement. “At worst, he has obstructed justice.”
Second-ranking Senate Democrat Dick Durbin told reporters, “Each day as this unfolds, this pattern of obstruction of justice grows.” The Illinois senator said he wants to see Comey’s memos and hear his testimony in public.
Even before the report of the Comey memo, members of Congress were negotiating to bring the former FBI chief in to hear his account of interactions with Trump. He was originally invited to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday but never accepted and indicated he would appear at another time.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters Tuesday that he has offered to let Comey testify in a public hearing of his subcommittee of the Senate judiciary panel, which is conducting its own investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“Let’s get to the bottom of what happened with the director,” Graham said, declining to comment on the memo. “The best way to get to the bottom of it is for him to testify.”
Trump has said he had three conversations with Comey in which he asked the FBI director if he was personally a target of the investigation into collusion with Russia. In his letter firing Comey, Trump said he was assured that he wasn’t.
After Comey was fired, Trump tweeted a threat at the former director. “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”