National Security

Memos document Comey’s interactions with Trump

Greg Nash

The Department of Justice has handed over to Congress memos written by former FBI Director James Comey documenting his encounters with President Trump that provide a meticulously detailed, first-hand account of some of the most controversial moments in the Trump presidency.

The memos, obtained by The Hill, document seven conversations Comey had with Trump between January 2017 and April 2017. Four are classified and have been partly redacted, while the remainder are unclassified.

While the major narratives documented in the memos were already publicly known, they provide a few tantalizing new particulars about Comey’s encounters with the president — and have already hardened partisan battle lines on Capitol Hill.

The Justice Department, late Thursday, handed over to Congress the 15 pages of contemporaneous notes, which had become something of a holy grail in the controversy over whether the president sought to obstruct justice in the investigation into potential ties between his campaign and Russia.

The three House Republican chairmen who forced the release of the memos — Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (Va.), Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (S.C.) and Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (Calif.) — claimed Thursday that they provide clear evidence that Trump did not seek to obstruct justice in the Russia investigation.

The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, meanwhile, said they “provide strong corroborating evidence of everything [Comey] said about President Trump” and show a “blatant effort to deny justice.”

The memos are written in what has become known as Comey’s signature style: detailed, visual and full of extemporaneous descriptions.

In one encounter, Trump pushes Comey to be more aggressive in pursuing leaks coming out of the bureau, suggesting repeatedly that the best way to do this would be to prosecute journalists. According to Comey, Trump said journalists would be more willing to give up their sources after they had spent a few nights in jail, a remark at which the FBI director said he laughed.

In another anecdote, from a now-famous dinner with Trump in the early days of the administration, Comey reveals that the president told him that he had “serious reservations” about then-national security adviser Michael Flynn’s judgment. According to the memos, Flynn failed to inform Trump that a redacted foreign leader was the first to call him to congratulate him on his election victory — until he was in the midst of a lunch with British Prime Minister Theresa May and thanked her for being the first. 

That foreign leader was Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

Trump would later fire Flynn for misleading the vice president about his contacts with Russian officials, Comey documents, but by then Trump was pushing the FBI director to “let go” of the investigation into the former official.

Former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, Comey wrote, asked him whether there was an open surveillance warrant on Flynn. Comey answered — his response is redacted, but public reports have indicated that there was — and explained that, typically, such queries should go through “established channels … to protect us and to protect the [White House] from any accusations of improper influence.”

In one redacted section that appears to refer to the so-called Steele dossier, Comey wrote that he told Trump that “portions of the material were corroborated by other intelligence” — a claim that could contradict some GOP claims that the FBI used unconfirmed material from the dossier in a surveillance warrant application for Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Democrats who have seen the application say the FBI did confirm any material it used.

Trump has called the dossier a total fabrication and, according to Comey, repeatedly denied “the golden showers thing” — a reference to one of the more salacious allegations in the document involving Russian prostitutes.

While the president denied the allegations, Comey says that Trump told him that Putin bragged that Russia has “some of the most beautiful hookers in the world.” 

Comey also wrote that he repeatedly told Trump that former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe — a longtime Republican target whom Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently fired — was a “pro” and “an honorable person.”

McCabe was dismissed following a finding by the Justice Department inspector general that he misled Comey and internal investigators about disclosures he authorized to the media related to the FBI’s investigation into the Clinton Foundation. According to the inspector general, McCabe authorized the disclosure to rebut negative press stories related to political donations given to his wife from a key Clinton ally during a failed state Senate campaign.

Comey on Thursday did not reject the notion that he could appear as a witness in any potential prosecution of McCabe.

Prior to his own dismissal in May, Comey says he told Trump, “If he had it to do over again I’m sure he would urge his wife not to run, but that guy put everything aside and did his job well.”

Republicans, who are investigating what they say is bias and possible wrongdoing by the Justice Department in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, say the memos show Comey was “blind to biases within the FBI and had terrible judgment with respect to his deputy Andrew McCabe.”

Many of the main events Comey describes in the memos have already been made public, either by Comey’s own testimony or in public press accounts, and the release of the documents comes just two days after the publication of the former director’s tell-all book that is deeply critical of the president.

The memos detail Comey’s account of several now-famous incidents: One in which Trump allegedly demanded his personal loyalty; one in which he asked him to investigate allegations in the dossier that he paid Russian prostitutes to urinate on a hotel bed once slept in by former President Obama; and the request that Comey “let go” of the Flynn investigation.

The Justice Department turned over the documents under threat of subpoena from Goodlatte. House Republicans have been in an increasingly bitter dispute with the Justice Department, which the GOP says has done an inadequate job of turning over documents that it is entitled to have.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told lawmakers on Monday that the Comey memos may relate to an “ongoing investigation,” according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Hill. In addition to possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether the president obstructed justice.

On Thursday, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd told lawmakers that the department had determined that the release of the documents to Congress “would not adversely affect any ongoing investigation” at this time. 

The seven memos in particular have been a flashpoint in the dispute with the Justice Department.

Comey drew fire from Republicans after he revealed that he provided one unclassified memo to a personal friend to reveal to The New York Times in order to spark the appointment of a special counsel in the Russia probe following his dismissal.

Democrats have described the GOP investigation as a partisan exercise designed to undercut Mueller. Comey’s memos are seen as key to a potential obstruction of justice case against the president.

Updated at 8:32 a.m.

Tags Andrew McCabe Bob Goodlatte Devin Nunes Donald Trump James Comey Jeff Sessions Reince Priebus Robert Mueller Rod Rosenstein Trey Gowdy

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