White House denies trying to influence FBI probe
The White House is disputing a report that President Donald Trump asked former FBI Director James Comey to shut down an investigation into ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn. The New York Times says he made the request in February. (May 16) AP
WASHINGTON – President Trump pressed James Comey to shut down the agency's inquiry into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, said a person who has reviewed the notes the now-fired FBI director took of the unusual encounter.
Trump asked to meet with Comey alone, following a February national security briefing involving Vice President Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, said the person who is not authorized to comment publicly.
"I hope you can let this go,'' Trump told Comey in the White House meeting according to the person.
It was an apparent reference to the bureau’s counterintelligence inquiry into possible collusion between Trump campaign associates — including Flynn — and Russian officials accused of seeking to influence the presidential election. The incident was first reported Tuesday by the The New York Times.
Trump abruptly fired Comey last week, in a move Democratic lawmakers decried as an attempt to short-circuit the Russia investigation.
Comey kept his own log of all his discussions with Trump because he was suspicious of the president's motives, according to the source.
The meeting in question took place Feb. 14, the day after Trump fired Flynn because he had misled colleagues – including Vice President Pence – about the substance of phone calls he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.
The FBI has been reviewing Flynn's contacts with Kislyak prior to Trump’s inauguration, in which he discussed sanctions the Obama administration imposed on Russia. Those conversations were secretly monitored by federal authorities, as are most communications involving foreign diplomats. Flynn initially denied discussing the sanctions, but later said the subject may have surfaced.
The White House strongly disputed the claims late Tuesday. "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 White House said in a statement.
"The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations," the White House said. "This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”
On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, lawmakers of both parties appeared ready to see evidence Trump might have tried to use his influence to shut down the FBI investigation into his campaign – whether voluntarily, or by subpoena.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who leads the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, asking for all notes, summaries, or recordings of communications involving Trump and Comey, by May 24.
"@GOPOversight is going to get the Comey memo, if it exists," tweeted Chaffetz. "I need to see it sooner rather than later. I have my subpoena pen ready."
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee which is leading a congressional investigation into Russia's influence in the election, demanded Comey must testify to Congress about his conversations with Trump. "Enough is enough," Schiff said. "Congress really needs to get to the bottom of this."
Comey "needs to come back before the Congress,” Schiff said, and “share with the public what conversations he had with the president" – including whether Trump tried to obstruct the investigation in any way.
Congress must obtain the reported Comey memos, he added. “We ought to ask if there are notes. Notes that were taken around the time of the conversation would be, I think, very powerful evidence of what took place during those conversations," he said.
He also referenced the president's recent suggestion that conversations with the former FBI director may have been secretly recorded. "If the president was being truthful in the threat to Director Comey that he had tapes or might have tapes, we are going to want to get a hold of those.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he has invited Comey to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in order to tell "his side of the story." As he put it: "I think it would be good for him if he did. It would be good for the country.”
The top Democrats in the Senate and House also chimed in. "Concerns about our national security, the rule of law, the independence of our nation's highest law enforcement agencies, are mounting," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said from the floor. "The country is being tested in unprecedented ways. I say to all of my colleagues in the Senate: history is watching."
And House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called it a "brazen attempt" to shut down the FBI's investigation. "If these reports are true ... (it) 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," she said.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, which along with the House Intelligence Committee is probing Russian interference in the 2016 elections, recently asked Flynn and other former Trump advisers to provide information about their activities.
Flynn is also now under investigation by the Pentagon inspector general for failing to inform Defense Department officials about seeking payments from foreign governments.
Contributing: Erin Kelly