FBI chief’s unceremonious ouster boomerangs on president
By Eric Tucker
WASHINGTON – Firing FBI Director James Comey is already coming back to haunt President Donald Trump.
In dismissing Comey last week, Trump created the very real possibility that a respected law enforcement official known for an outspoken nature and willingness to buck political convention could resurface in public.
And while Comey himself has been silent, his associates have been exposing intriguing details of his encounters with Trump.
On Tuesday, an associate revealed that Comey had written a memo in which he described Trump asking him to shut down an FBI investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Comey, who was known to keep a paper trail of sensitive meetings, chronicled the president’s request soon after the February Oval Office meeting with the president, an associate who has seen the memo told The Associated Press. The associate was not authorized to discuss the memo by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The FBI and Justice Department declined to comment Tuesday on accounts of the memo, which was first reported by The New York Times. The White House disputed the account.
The conversation occurred weeks after the FBI interviewed Flynn regarding his contacts with the Russia ambassador and after the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, warned the White House that Flynn had misled them about those conversations and could be vulnerable to blackmail.
Flynn was forced to resign Feb. 13 after reports of the Yates-White House conversation.
News Tuesday of Trump’s request of Comey immediately renewed concerns from congressional Democrats that Trump was trying to obstruct an investigation that’s been examining potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.
“We are witnessing an obstruction of justice case unfolding in real time,” Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Judiciary Committee member and former federal prosecutor, said in a statement. He called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate.
Some Republicans also called for action, asking Comey to speak to Congress and demanding that any memos or recordings of his conversations with the president be presented to them.
Comey, appointed as FBI director in 2013 by President Barack Obama, spoke often about his desire to be as transparent as possible about FBI actions and about proving to the public that his agency was independent, competent and thorough.
“We’re not on anybody’s side, ever,” he said in a March speech. “We’re not considering whose ox will be gored by this action or that action, whose fortunes will be helped by this or that — we just don’t care and we can’t care.”
He riled administrations of both parties with his moral certitude and decisions that critics said strayed from ordinary protocol, such as his public announcement — without the involvement of the Justice Department — that the FBI would not recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for her email use.
Testifying before Congress is familiar to Comey, a former Justice Department official in the George W. Bush administration.
As FBI director, he was accustomed to hours-long oversight hearings before Congress, including one a week before his firing. In 2007, he recounted to a rapt congressional audience the dramatic hospital room clash three years earlier with Bush officials over the approval of a domestic surveillance program.
Comey was abruptly fired May 9 and learned of the dismissal as he was giving a talk in Los Angeles. While the White House initially cited a Justice Department recommendation and Comey’s very public handling of the Clinton email investigation as reasons, those explanations quickly shifted.
Trump later admitted in a television interview about Comey’s firing that he was bothered by “this Russia thing” and said he would have fired Comey regardless of the Justice Department recommendation. He also tweeted a veiled threat warning the ex-director against leaking information.
Soon after the firing, a Comey associate told the AP that Comey recounted being asked by Trump a January dinner if he would pledge his loyalty. The White House has denied that report.
After Tuesday’s revelation, the White House said 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 General Flynn.”
There is no sign the FBI’s Russia investigation is closing. Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe told Congress last week the investigation is “highly significant” and said Comey’s dismissal would do nothing to impede the probe.