President Donald Trump pushed FBI Director James Comey to halt the bureau’s investigation of the president’s disgraced national security adviser, Michael Flynn, according to a memo authored by the FBI chief and disclosed by the New York Times.
“He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go,” Trump told Comey, according to the memo, which was read to a Times reporter.
The revelation adds to a disastrous week for a Trump White House already under siege by reports that the president revealed classified information in an Oval Office meeting with top Russian officials. The conversation between Comey and Flynn represents the first evidence that Trump attempted to directly intervene in an FBI investigation targeting his aides and their possible links to Russia.
The White House denied the report. “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 to the Times.
While the exact scope of the FBI inquiry into Flynn remains unclear, agents are likely examining conversations between the retired lieutenant general and senior Russian officials before Trump took office. Trump fired Flynn after less than a month on the job, allegedly because Flynn lied to Vice President Mike Pence about whether he discussed sanctions during conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States.
FBI agents may also be examining Flynn’s work as a lobbyist. As part of a lucrative contract with a businessman close to the Turkish government, Flynn failed to register as a foreign agent under lobbying rules. Flynn registered retroactively in March.
As part of a sprawling inquiry into Russia’s campaign to influence the outcome of the U.S. election in Trump’s favor, the FBI is investigating whether any of the president’s lieutenants conspired with the Kremlin.
Comey has long been known to document the content of conversations, and the memos described by the Times present a portrait of a president desperate to control the flow of information out of the White House and to inoculate himself from scandal. In addition to encouraging Comey to squash the Flynn investigation, Trump suggested the FBI director should imprison journalists for publishing classified information.
Despite his firing last week, Comey’s conversations with Trump do not appear to have impacted the bureau’s investigation of Russian election meddling. Last week, a Virginia grand jury issued subpoenas targeting Flynn. Last week, the FBI’s acting director, Andrew McCabe, said the bureau’s Russia investigation had not been obstructed so far.
Comey’s firing has raised questions about the continued independence of the FBI under Trump, who first claimed to have dismissed him at the recommendation of Justice Department officials. Trump later contradicted that justification in an interview with NBC. “Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey,” Trump told anchor Lester Holt. “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.’”
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