TrumpWatch, Day 117: Trump Faces Claims of Obstruction of Justice

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Trump to FBI Director Comey re investigation of Michael Flynn: “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”


Developments on Day 117 of the Trump Administration:

Comey — Trump Asked for Halt to Flynn Investigation

The political and legal crisis for Donald Trump escalates with the revelation of former FBI Director James Comey that the President asked him to halt the investigation into ex-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

Comey, fired by Trump on May 9 over the FBI’s inquiry into links between Trump associates and Russian officials, recorded the President’s request in a memorandum after a mid-February meeting.

Trump told Comey, according to the memo:

I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.

Trump said Flynn had done nothing wrong. Comey did not comment about the investigation, saying only: “I agree he is a good guy.”

The meeting took place a day after Flynn was finally forced to resign by the Administration, almost three weeks after the then-National Security Advisor misled the FBI over his contacts with the Russian Ambassador to the US, Sergei Kislyak. Comey wrote the memo as part of a paper trail to document his belief that Trump was improperly trying to influence a continuing investigation.

Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. One of the associates read parts of it to a New York Times reporter.

The White House issued its third significant denial in eight days, following assertions — later reversed by Trump — that Comey’s dismissal was not prompted by the Trump-Russia inquiry and that the President did not give intelligence to high-level Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting:

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 President has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.

Behind the statement, advisors portrayed an agitated President and a White House in chaos. The sources said Trump has turned against most of his aides, even his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and has said in a fury that they are “incompetent”.

On Tuedsay night, top White House officials learned of the impending New York Times story two hours before it was posted online. Aides rushed to ask Trump what he had actually told Comey, but the White House had no memos or tapes of the meeting to rebut the claims. Trump did not even give an entire readout of his conversation, leaving staffers “actually unaware of what happened”.

Within 75 minutes of the article going online, Trump stormed out in fury, leaving aides to “figure out how bad the fallout was”. A White House advisor said aides struggled to get spokespeople on TV because no one knew what to say or how to defend the story.

Sources said that on Monday, Trump told advisors that “he knew he needed to make big changes but did not know which direction to go, or whom to select”.

“Nobody knows where this really goes from here,” a “White House official” said. “Everyone is walking around saying, ‘What is next?’”

Trump to Comey: Can We Imprison Journalists?

Comey’s memo also revealed that Trump opened the meeting — after dismissing all others, including Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, following a White House discussion on counter-terrorism — with the request that the FBI Director consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information.

Trump then raised Flynn’s situation.

Last week, Comey’s associates revealed a January 27 meeting — three days after the FBI’s interview of Flynn over the Russian contacts and a day after Acting Attorney Sally Yates said the White House was vulnerable to Moscow’s blackmails over Flynn’s deceptions — where Trump asked the FBI Director for a pledge of personal loyalty. Comey declined.

After publication of the story, Trump posted on Twitter that “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” That set off a further political storm over whether the President is secretly recording conversations, which could now be subpoenaed by Congressional investigations.

Leading Republicans Press White House

The New York Times revelation of Comey’s memo sent shock waves through Congress, pressing Republicans to distance themselves from Trump and contemplate an independent investigation and/or prosecutor.

Jason Chaffetz, the GOP chairman of the House Oversight Committee, demanded that the F.B.I. turn over all “memoranda, notes, summaries and recordings” of discussions between Trump and Comey, given “questions as to whether the president attempted to influence or impede” the FBI.

Chaffetz’s letter to Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe set a May 24 for delivery of the documents to the House committee.

Senator John McCain said the revelations are “at a point where it’s of Watergate size and scale”. Continuing his reference to the 1970s and the downfall of Richard Nixon, “We’ve seen this movie before….The shoes continue to drop, and every couple days there’s a new aspect.”


After Giving Intelligence to Russians, Trump Calls Israel’s Netanyahu

A day after revelations that he gave classified intelligence to high-level Russian officials, Donald Trump calls Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Officially the call was about Trump’s visit to Israel next week, but it likely touched upon Trump’s disclosure of the Israeli information — gathered from an infiltrator in the ISIS-held city of Raqqa in northern Syria — to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak last Wednesday.

Multiple officials confirmed to NBC News and The New York Times on Tuesday that the intelligence had been provided to Washington by the Israelis under a special intelligence-sharing arrangement. Israel has warned that that arrangement will be suspended if information is leaked.

Privately Israeli services are agitated at Trump’s disclosure, but publicly the Israeli Ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, said, “Israel has full confidence in our intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States and looks forward to deepening that relationship in the years ahead under President Trump.”

Officially an Israeli senior official said the subject of the disclosed intelligence did not arise during the call.

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