President Donald Trump asked former FBI Director James Comey to shut down his bureau’s investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a request that Comey documented in a memo, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.
The bombshell report came exactly one week after Trump abruptly fired Comey from his post, sending shockwaves through the Beltway and kicking off a political firestorm that subsumed Trump’s communications staff and the U.S. deputy attorney general. The FBI has been probing whether Trump campaign representatives, including Flynn, colluded with Russian operatives to influence the U.S. election, and Trump revealed in an interview days after the abrupt firing that he was thinking about “this Russia thing” when he decided to drop the hammer.
Trump made the request during a meeting with Comey in the Oval Office in February, one day after Flynn stepped down as national security adviser, according to the New York Times. NBC News, CNN, and the Washington Post also corroborated the Times’ reporting.
The White House denied that Trump asked Comey “to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn.”
“The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations,” the White House said in a statement. “This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”
Notably, Comey wrote the unclassified memo as “part of a paper trail” documenting what he saw as Trump’s improper attempts to influence the probe, according to the Times. The newspaper did not obtain a copy of the memo, but cited two unnamed sources who read it. An unnamed associate of Comey’s also read parts of the memo to a Times reporter.
According to the New York Times and CNN, Comey visited the Oval Office on Feb. 14 to brief Trump and other senior officials including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Vice President Mike Pence.
When the briefing was over, according to those reports, Trump asked everybody present to leave except for Comey, and then made his request.
The President told Comey, “I hope you can let this go,” according to the Times.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump said, as quoted in the report. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
He insisted that Flynn had not done anything wrong, the Times reported, but Comey limited his response to: “I agree he is a good guy.”
The two unnamed sources told the Times that Comey similarly documented every phone call and meeting he had with Trump, although some of those materials are classified. Comey shared the memo about Trump’s request regarding the Flynn investigation with close associates and senior officials at the FBI, according to the Times’ report.
The Washington Post reported, citing unnamed sources close to the matter, that Comey also shared the memo with a select circle at the Justice Department.
According to Comey’s account, Trump made the request to quash the Flynn probe about two weeks after a dinner where he reportedly asked Comey to pledge loyalty to him.
Comey declined to pledge anything but “honesty,” the New York Times reported last week, citing sources close to the ousted FBI director.
The White House pushed back on that account, too, telling the Times that Trump “would never even suggest the expectation of personal loyalty.”
In an interview days later, however, Trump said he did not think it would be inappropriate to ask an FBI director for “loyalty.”
“I don’t think it would be a bad question to ask,” Trump said, though he insisted he “didn’t ask that question.”
Trump’s decision to fire Comey prompted backlash from Democrats and Republicans alike and prompted questions about the timing and rationale for his decision.
After a whirlwind two days of conflicting White House statements on the matter, Trump said he planned to fire Comey “regardless” of recommendations from the Justice Department.
The President also said he was thinking about the investigation into his campaign’s possible coordination with Russia when he decided to terminate Comey.
“When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story,” Trump told NBC News’ Lester Holt.
He also claimed that Comey told him on three separate occasions that he was not the subject of an investigation by the FBI. The President said he asked Comey to offer those assurances.
On Friday, Trump appeared to warn Comey against speaking to the press, and suggested he had recorded his conversations with the former FBI director:
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer spent the week stonewalling reporters on whether recordings of Trump’s conversations with Comey do, in fact, exist.
“The tweet speaks for itself. I’m moving on,” he said on Friday.
On Monday, Spicer declined to say whether Trump would acquiesce to lawmakers’ requests for additional information on the “tapes” tweet, saying only, “I think I made it clear last week that the President has nothing further on that.”
If such tapes exist, they would presumably back up the account laid out in Comey’s memo.
This post has been updated.