Trump may be in ‘impeachment territory’ for asking Comey to drop Flynn probe
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Trump may be in ‘impeachment territory’ for asking Comey to drop Flynn probe

Media reports quote purported memo from FBI director that says Trump asked him to “let go” investigation into Michael Flynn’s Russian connections. Experts say if true, this puts the US president’s term in jeopardy

world Updated: May 17, 2017 14:06 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Donald Trump,US President,James Comey
The White House denied the FBI director’s version of a meeting in which President Donald Trump seems to have attempted to discourage an investigation into one of his former aides.(Reuters photo)

President Donald Trump had asked FBI director James Comey to end the investigation into his first National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s Russian connections, according to notes Comey kept of the conversation that he had shown to some associates, multiple US news media outlets reported on Wednesday.

“I hope you can let this go,” Trump told Comey, according to the memo. The conversation took place in the Oval Office on February 14, the day after Flynn was fired for lying to vice-president Mike Pence about his contacts with Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” ran the fuller conversation as recorded by Comey, who had kept written accounts of all his meetings with Trump, said The New York Times, which first reported this conversation.

“He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go,” the president had said and went on to tell Comey that Flynn had done nothing wrong. Comey replied, “I agree he is a good guy.”

This was the first and clearest evidence yet the president tried to influence the FBI’s investigation of his National Security Adviser, for his Russia connections. Experts said this could potentially be portrayed as obstruction of justice, among the charges triggered in the last two impeachment proceedings against a US president.

The two presidents were Bill Clinton, against whom the process began in 1998, and Richard Nixon, who resigned shortly after the House of Representatives started the proceedings in 1974.

“I think we are in impeachment territory,” David Gergen, a White House official who served both Nixon and Clinton — and Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan in between — said on CNN.

The White House denied the conversation in a statement: “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 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.”

As further proof, it pointed to a recent congressional testimony by Deputy Director of FBI Andrew McCabe that “the WH (White House) had not interfered with any investigation”.

Comey was in the Oval Office for a meeting with Trump, vice-president Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. After they were done, president sent Pence and Sessions and held back Comey for a conversation that could cause him immense harm.

The new revelation hit the White House as it was still struggling to deal with reports — that the president has since confirmed —of Trump having shared highly classified intelligence with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and ambassador Kislyak last week, just the day he had fired Comey who was investigating Russian meddling in 2016 polls. The intelligence came from Israeli sources.

The purported memo was the second bombshell in the Trump-Comey stand-off. In the first, unidentified Comey associates told US media the president had demanded “loyalty” from the FBI director at a dinner in the White House just days into his presidency. Comey declined, and offered instead “honesty”.

The president gave another version of the same dinner in which, according to him, Comey asked to be continued as FBI director.

But the morning after, he said in a tweet he has “tapes” and Comey should be careful. That was seen as a threat.

First Published: May 17, 2017 09:13 IST