WASHINGTON — A memo written by former FBI Director James Comey said President Donald Trump asked him to drop his investigation of dismissed National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia, The New York Times first reported Tuesday.
“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Comey, according to the memo Comey wrote after a meeting with Trump in the Oval Office meeting in February. Parts of the memo were read to the Times. The Washington Post also reported on the memo.
Trump told Comey that Flynn had done nothing wrong, according to the memo.
A senior White House official who declined to be identified on Tuesday pushed back on the report, calling it “not a truthful or accurate portrayal” of the conversation.
“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 official said.
A spokesman for the FBI declined to comment, the Times said.
Late Tuesday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) sent a letter to Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe requesting that any memos, recordings or other communications relating to conversations between Trump and Comey be turned over by May 24 so the committee can learn whether the president “attempted to influence or impede” the Flynn probe.The White House did not immediately respond to Chaffetz’s letter.
Earlier Tuesday, Trump tweeted that it is his “absolute right” to share intelligence with senior Russian diplomats, and his national security adviser H.R. McMaster repeatedly called Trump’s actions “wholly appropriate.”
Trump, McMaster and White House spokesman Sean Spicer did not deny that the president divulged classified information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on May 10 in the Oval Office.
But McMaster said Trump had not jeopardized national security and portrayed intelligence leaks to the press as the more urgent matter.
“It was wholly appropriate to share what the threat was as a basis for common action and coordination and cooperation,” McMaster said.
He defended Trump’s interaction with the Russians in the wake of published reports that Trump told them about an Islamic State threat relating to laptops on aircraft — revealed to the United States by an ally using its spying capabilities.
The Washington Post first reported the story.
McMaster said the information advances the United States and Russia’s common goal of defeating the Islamic State. He called the “premise” of the Post story false.
McMaster and Spicer both said they would not discuss whether the information was classified.
Trump relayed his own version of events in morning tweets.
“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety,” he wrote. “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”
On Capitol Hill, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) had said the White House is in a “downward spiral” and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Bloomberg News, “We could do with a little less drama from the White House . . . so that we could focus on our agenda, which is deregulations, tax reform, and repealing and replacing Obamacare.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for transcripts of the meeting with the Russians, which was closed to American press, to be shared with the intelligence committee.
“Russia is not America’s friend,” Schumer said. “And the president should know that highly classified intel isn’t something you use to impress people.”
Also Tuesday, Trump met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been criticized for human rights violations and a referendum expanding his executive power.
Trump expressed empathy for Turkey as the target of recent terror attacks, pledging a partnership in the fight against the Islamic State and toward ending the Syrian civil war.