President Donald Trump praised James Comey for his honorable conduct during the 2016 campaign, sought out his loyalty, denied any involvement with prostitutes, and asked if the FBI director could let go of an investigation into his former national security adviser, according to contemporaneous memos Comey made to document those conversations.
These aspects of Comey’s conversations with Trump before he was fired by the president in May 2017 are detailed in memos the Justice Department turned over Thursday to House committees. The memos track broadly with accounts of those conversations Comey has given in public testimony to Congress and his new bestselling book.
Comey has said he wrote the memos for the FBI’s files to document his conversations with Trump because he said he found them troubling. Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Trump asked him in February 2017 to shut down the federal investigation into Michael Flynn, who served briefly as Trump’s national security adviser before being ousted.
Trump “said, ‘I hope you can see your way to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go,’” Comey wrote to document a Feb. 14, 2017 conversation. “I replied by saying, ‘I agree he is a good guy,’ but said no more.”
In a memo dated March 30, Comey describes Trump complaining to him about how the cloud cast by the Russia investigation was impairing his ability to run the country and that he was eager for the FBI director to make clear publicly that the president isn’t under investigation.
Trump also said that he was going to sue Christopher Steele, the British ex-spy who compiled an unverified dossier alleging links between Russia and Trump and his associates, according to Comey’s memos.
The Justice Department agreed to give Congress the Comey memos after House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia threatened to issue a subpoena for them.
The push by Republicans to obtain the memos came after the release this week of Comey’s memoir, “A Higher Loyalty,” and interviews in which he portrays the president as a liar and immoral. Some Republicans complain that Comey has been talking about the memos in his book promotion tour even as the Justice Department withheld them from lawmakers.
Some aides to House Intelligence and Senate Judiciary members already had been permitted to read the Comey memos in secure settings.
Comey has said he wrote the memos for the FBI’s files to capture his conversations with Trump. He testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee that Trump asked him in February 2017 to shut down the federal investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Trump fired Comey in May 2017.
Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that Comey’s “contemporaneous memos provide strong corroborating evidence of everything he said about President Trump — that the president wanted his personal loyalty, that he wanted to end the Russia investigation, and that he wanted Michael Flynn to walk.”
Republicans are seeking to spur debate over whether Comey may have violated Justice Department rules by sharing memos with a law school professor, given that department officials had maintained that they hadn’t yet determined whether they contained sensitive or classified material that prevented disclosing them to Congress.
Goodlatte, joined by Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes of California and Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, wrote a letter last Friday to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein arguing there was no legal basis to withhold the documents.
Nunes, Gowdy and Goodlatte released a statement on Thursday night saying the memos showed that Comey was inconsistent and overlooked bias inside the FBI.
“As we have consistently said, rather than making a criminal case for obstruction or interference with an ongoing investigation, these memos would be Defense Exhibit A should such a charge be made,” they said.