WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department sent to Capitol Hill on Thursday redacted copies of a set of closely kept memos written by former FBI Director James Comey about his interactions with President Donald Trump.
The memos, running 15 pages in total, detail a series of phone calls and encounters between the two men in the months leading up to Comey's firing and offer an intimate look at interactions among the highest levels of government.
On one occasion, Trump told Comey that he had serious concerns about the judgment of his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Trump's chief of staff asked days later if Flynn's communications were being monitored under a secret surveillance warrant, according to memos maintained by Comey and obtained by The Associated Press and other news agencies.
Trump also told Comey that Russian President Vladimir Putin told him Russia had "some of the most beautiful hookers in the world" even as he adamantly, and repeatedly, distanced himself from salacious but unsubstantiated allegations involving prostitutes in Moscow, the documents state.
The documents contain new details about a series of interactions with Trump that Comey said he found so unnerving that he documented them in writing. Those encounters in the months before Comey's May 2017 firing include a Trump Tower discussion about a possible encounter between Trump and prostitutes in Moscow; a White House dinner at which Comey says Trump asked him for his loyalty; and a private Oval Office discussion where the ex-FBI head says the president asked him to end an investigation into Flynn.
The broad outlines of the memos have already been reported and were relayed by Comey in testimony before the Senate and in his recent memoir, A Higher Loyalty. But they are believed to be key evidence in a possible obstruction-of-justice case against Trump being pursued by the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Mueller was appointed days after Comey was dismissed in May.
Late Thursday, the Republican chairmen of three House committees said in a joint statement that the memos show that Comey never "felt obstructed or threatened."
The memos "would be Defense Exhibit A" if Trump were charged with obstruction of justice, and they make clear Trump "wanted allegations of collusion, coordination, and conspiracy between his campaign and Russia fully investigated," said the chairmen, Robert Goodlatte of the Judiciary Committee; Devin Nunes of the Intelligence Committee; and Trey Gowdy of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Trump claimed vindication late Thursday in a tweet: "James Comey Memos just out and show clearly that there was NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION. Also, he leaked classified information. WOW! Will the Witch Hunt continue?"
The memos were provided to Congress earlier Thursday as House Republicans escalated their criticism of the Justice Department, threatening to subpoena the documents and questioning officials.
CONCERN ABOUT FLYNN
According to one memo, Trump complained about Flynn at a private January 2017 dinner with Comey, saying "the guy has serious judgment issues."
He then blamed Flynn for a delay in returning a congratulatory call from an international leader, telling Comey that he would be upset if he had to wait six days for a returned phone call.
"I did not comment at any point during this topic and there was no mention or acknowledgment of any FBI interest in or contact with General Flynn," Comey wrote.
At that point, the FBI had already interviewed Flynn about his contacts with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, and the Justice Department had already warned White House officials that they were concerned Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail.
Flynn was fired Feb. 13, 2017, after White House officials said he had misled them about his Russian contacts during the transition period by saying he had not discussed sanctions.
In a separate memo, Comey says Trump cleared the Oval Office of other officials, encouraged him to let go of the investigation into Flynn and called him a good guy. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is now cooperating with Mueller's investigation.
The memos reveal that days before Flynn's firing, then-White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asked Comey if Flynn's communications were being monitored under a secret surveillance warrant.
"Do you have a FISA order on Mike Flynn?" Priebus asked Comey, according to the memos, referring to an order under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Comey said he "paused for a few seconds and then said that I would answer here, but that this illustrated the kind of question that had been asked and answered through established channels."
Comey's response is redacted on the unclassified memos.
The memos also show Trump's distress at a dossier of allegations examining potential ties between the president, his aides and the Kremlin. Comey wrote how Trump repeatedly denied to him having been involved in an encounter with Russian prostitutes in a Moscow hotel.
"The President said 'the hookers thing' is nonsense, but that Putin had told him 'we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world,'" according to one memo. Comey wrote that Trump did not say when Putin had made the comment.
In a letter sent to the three House committee chairmen Thursday evening, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote that the department was sending a classified version of the memos and an unclassified version. The department released Boyd's letter publicly but did not release the memos.
The Justice Department today is expected to deliver unredacted versions of the memos to lawmakers via a secure transfer.
Justice officials had allowed some lawmakers to view the memos but had never provided copies to Congress. Boyd wrote that the department had also provided the memos to several Senate committees.
Boyd wrote in the letter that the department "consulted the relevant parties" and concluded that releasing the memos would not adversely affect any ongoing investigations. In addition to his investigation of possible obstruction of justice by the president, Mueller is investigating potential ties between Russia and Trump's 2016 campaign.
Comey is on a publicity tour to promote his new book A Higher Loyalty. He revealed last year that he had written the memos after conversations with Trump.
He has said publicly, "I knew there might come a day when I would need a record of what had happened, not just to defend myself, but to defend the FBI and our integrity as an institution and the independence of our investigative function."
INTEREST IN MANAFORT
Earlier Thursday, a Justice Department lawyer told a judge that Mueller's interest in Paul Manafort, a former campaign chairman for the president, stemmed in part from his suspected role as a "back channel" between the campaign and Russians intent on meddling in the election.
The disclosure by U.S. prosecutors came during a hearing on whether Mueller exceeded his authority in indicting Manafort on charges of laundering millions of dollars while acting as an unregistered agent of the Ukrainian government.
Manafort's lawyers say those alleged crimes have nothing to do with Mueller's central mission -- to determine whether anyone on Trump's campaign had links to the Russian government.
Defense attorney Kevin Downing argued anew to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington that even Mueller's appointment order permitting him to probe "any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation" wouldn't cover the political consulting work Manafort did before 2014 on behalf of Ukraine's pro-Russian president at the time, Viktor Yanukovych.
Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 but resigned in August amid news reports about his work in Ukraine.
Justice Department attorney Michael Dreeben said prosecutors were justified in investigating Manafort because he had served as Trump's campaign chairman.
"He had long-standing ties to Russia-backed politicians," Dreeben told Jackson. "Did they provide back channels to Russia? Investigators will naturally look at those things."
Prosecutors hadn't previously used such explicit language to describe their suspicions about Manafort. In a previous court filing, Mueller's team also cited business ties between Manafort and the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
Any investigation of links between Russia and the Trump campaign "would naturally cover ties that a former Trump campaign manager had to Russian-associated political operatives, Russian-backed politicians, and Russian oligarchs," prosecutors said in an April 2 filing.
Mueller has charged 19 people, including 13 Russians, since his appointment. Five have pleaded guilty, including Rick Gates, a former Trump deputy campaign chairman and longtime business associate of Manafort. Gates is cooperating with Mueller's investigation.
Aside from the Washington indictment, Manafort also faces bank- and tax-fraud charges in federal court in Alexandria, Va.
TRUMP, DEPUTY AG TALK
Meanwhile, several people familiar with the matter said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told Trump last week that he isn't a target of any part of Mueller's investigation or the inquiry into his longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Rosenstein, who brought up the investigations himself, offered the assurance during a meeting with Trump on April 12 at the White House, a development that helped tamp down the president's desire to remove Rosenstein or Mueller, the people said.
After the meeting, Trump told some of his closest advisers that it's not the right time to remove either man since he's not a target of the probes, the people said. One person said Trump doesn't want to take any action that would drag out the investigation.
The change in attitude by the president comes after weeks of attacks on the special counsel and the Justice Department, raising questions about whether he might take drastic steps to shut down the probes.
Trump, who still hasn't ruled out removing Rosenstein and Mueller at some point, signaled his shift in approach to them Wednesday, responding to a reporter's question about their fate by saying they are "still here."
"They've been saying I'm going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months," Trump said at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla. "And they're still here. We want to get the investigation over with, done with, put it behind us. And we have to get back to business."
The expectation that the investigation will wrap up soon was underscored by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who said Thursday that he had joined Trump's personal legal team.
Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor, said in an interview Thursday that he was taking a "very brief" leave of absence from his law firm in an effort to get Mueller "what he needs to wrap it up" and to "try to negotiate a way to get this over with."
Information for this article was contributed by Nicholas Fandos of The New York Times; by Mary Clare Jalonick, Chad Day and Eric Tucker of The Associated Press; by David Voreacos, Jennifer Jacobs, Chris Strohm and Jennifer Epstein of Bloomberg News; and by Spencer S. Hsu of The Washington Post.
A Section on 04/20/2018
Print Headline: D.C. abuzz over notes on Trump by Comey