WHITE HOUSE —
Following a bombshell revelation that President Trump may have asked then-FBI Director James Comey to drop the agency's probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a powerful Republican Congressional committee chairman has asked the FBI to hand over Comey’s notes on the incident within a week.
In a letter to acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) demanded that “all memoranda, summaries, and recording, referring or relating to any communications between Comey and the President” be made available to the committee by May 24.
The New York Times broke the story late Tuesday, reporting that Comey had written a memo detailing his conversation with Trump a day after Flynn resigned under fire last February. The Times story said the memo was part of a paper trail Comey created to document his perception that the president’s request was improper.
Several legal analysts have argued that any such request could be considered obstruction of justice, an impeachable offense. Representative Adam Schiff of California, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said at a news conference Tuesday, "if true, this is yet another disturbing allegation that the president may have engaged in some interference or obstruction of the investigation."
The Times reported that an FBI agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.
The Trump White House swung into crisis mode after the story broke. A statement issued Tuesday evening did not directly refer to the Times report, but denied that Trump had asked Comey or anyone else to end the Flynn probe.
“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 statement said. “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.”
In a separate statement issued at the same time, the administration pointed out that then deputy FBI Director McCabe had told a Senate committee last week that the White House had not interfered with any investigation.
Trump abruptly fired Comey last week, creating a firestorm of political controversy and increasing calls for a special prosecutor or independent commission to look into any Russia-Trump connections.
White House officials have stressed that the Russia probe had nothing to do with Trump’s firing of Comey, although Trump himself has suggested in interviews that it was at least partly a motivation.
Colleagues of Comey have said the former FBI director took careful notes of meetings, especially politically sensitive ones, and there have been reports in recent weeks suggesting that such memos existed.
Flynn's resignation came hours after it was reported that the Justice Department had warned the White House that Flynn could be vulnerable to blackmail for his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Trump took office.
A spokeswoman for the FBI declined to comment on the details of the Comey memo.
Reaction from Congress
News of the reported Comey allegations prompted swift reaction on Capitol Hill. Several key Republican Senators seemed to question Comey’s reported version of events.
“The director might have told us that there’d been a request like that, and it was never mentioned by him,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC). “So somebody’s going to have to do more than have anonymous sources on this one for me to believe that there’s something there.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a frequent Trump critic, said, “If this happened, the FBI director should have done something about it or quit.”
Seeking independent investigation
But for House Democrats, the revelations are just the newest reason on a long list that should move Congress to pass legislation creating an independent investigation into Russian election interference.
On the floor of the Senate, Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said he was “shaken” by reports that Trump tried to shut down an active investigation. “The country is being tested in unprecedented ways …history is watching," Schumer said.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted, "If reports are true, Trump's attempts to shut down the FBI's Flynn investigation is an assault on the rule of law."
There already have been calls for Trump to turn over records of any conversations with Comey. That was especially the case after Trump, in a tweet earlier this week, appeared to threaten Comey into silence with the existence of what he said could be “tapes” of their conversations.
It is the latest controversy to embroil the White House, which also has been dealing with the fallout over reports suggesting that Trump divulged sensitive information during a meeting with Russian officials last week.
The controversies threaten to distract from Trump’s first overseas trip, which begins later this week.