Comey: Trump pressured FBI to drop Flynn investigation
President Donald Trump attempted to pressure the FBI to drop its investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s ties with the Russian government, according to ousted FBI Director James Comey.
Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Trump cleared the Oval Office following a counter-terrorism meeting on Feb. 14th to speak privately with him about Flynn, who resigned after admitting he misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russian officials in 2016.
“My sense was the Attorney General knew he shouldn’t be leaving, which was why he was lingering. And I didn’t know Mr. Kushner well, but I think he picked up on the same thing. And so I knew something was about to happen and I need to pay very close attention to,” said Comey.
Comey recounted Trump’s remarks in his written testimony:
“I want to talk about Mike Flynn”, Trump told Comey after the two were alone. “He is a good guy and has been through a lot.”
Trump insisted that Flynn did not do anything wrong. He told Comey, “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.”
“He is a good guy,” Comey replied, ending the conversation.
Comey characterized Trump’s request as “a very disturbing thing, very concerning” given that Flynn was under an active “criminal investigation of his statements in connection with the Russia contacts and the contacts themselves”.
While Comey acknowledged that Trump did not explicitly order him to drop the Flynn investigation, he stressed that “when it comes to the president, I took it as a direction – to get rid of this investigation”.
“I think there’s a big difference in kicking superior officers out of the Oval Office, looking the FBI director in the eye and saying, ‘I hope you let this go,’” said Comey. “I think if the agents, as good as they are, heard the president of the United States did that, there’s a real risk of a chilling effect on their work.”
Comey declined to state whether he thought Trump’s action was “an effort to obstruct”, saying that it is up to Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate and determine whether Trump committed obstruction of justice.
While Comey informed the FBI’s senior leadership of his conversation with Trump, he opted not to tell Attorney General Jeff Sessions because “we believed, rightly, that he was shortly going to recuse” from the Justice Department’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election and possible collusion between Trump associates and the Russian government.
(Sessions announced his recusal after the Washington Post reported that he failed to disclose contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak while serving as Trump’s campaign surrogate during his Senate confirmation process.)
However, Comey did “implore” Sessions to never leave him alone with Trump.
“I told the AG that what had just happened – him being asked to leave while the FBI Director, who reports to the AG, remained behind – was inappropriate and should never happen,” Comey testified.