Former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director James Comey’s meticulously prepared memos of his meetings with US president Donald Trump were leaked to the press last night (April 19), within less than a hour of being shared with the House Judiciary Committee.
Republican members of the committee were planning to subpoena the Department of Justice to share them with Congress, in a highly unusual move.
For the most part, the 15 pages of memos flesh out the meetings with Trump that Comey detailed during his hearing in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee last June, including Trump’s repeated demands for “loyalty” and his asking Comey to “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation.
Staunch Trump supporters in Congress believe the leaked memos prove Trump didn’t obstruct justice in the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election:
These Comey memos were supposed to implicate President Trump? Really?
On page 13 POTUS appears to instruct Director Comey to investigate and find the truth about whether his campaign team did anything wrong. There's nothing in here even approaching 'obstruction of justice.'
— Mark Meadows (@RepMarkMeadows) April 20, 2018
(Meadows, the leader of the House Freedom Caucus, is not 100% accurate —Trump doesn’t tell Comey to “find the truth about whether his campaign team did anything wrong” anywhere in the memos.)
However, the full memos (read them here or here) may not help Trump’s cause at all. They create a picture of a man completely disinterested in whether Russia meddled in the election that made him president, and obsessed with other issues:
Trump’s fixation on accusations of hiring prostitutes. The so-called “golden showers” report on Trump, released publicly two weeks before his inauguration, claimed Russia had compromising information on Trump, including information about prostitutes hired at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Moscow in 2013.
When Comey met with Trump on Jan. 6 of last year, he told him of the report and what it contained. Trump’s first response was to suggest that he wasn’t the kind of guy who needs to pay for sex:
During their next meeting on Jan. 27, Trump said that he’d been reminded that he didn’t sleep in Moscow on the night in question, and asked Comey to investigate the accusation to set his wife’s mind at ease:
And on a Feb. 8 meeting at the White House, Trump mentioned that Putin had told him that Russia had some of the “most beautiful hookers in the world,” while again disputing the “golden showers” report:
(Trump had just tweeted the day before “I don’t know Putin.”)
Then when the two talked on March 30, Trump brought up the issue again:
The Trump team’s knowledge and interest in the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. On their second meeting on Jan. 27, Trump and Comey dined alone in the White House’s Green Room. Here, the president talked nearly non-stop, Comey recalls, picking up topics of conversation only to discard them and return to them later, “conversation-as-jigsaw puzzle” as he says. (That’s the same way that Trump speaks when he’s veered off his notes in a speech, or is doing a free-wheeling interview with the press.)
On the topic of the FBI investigation into Clinton’s emails, though, Trump “knew the sequence of events very well,” and walked through how they played out during his campaign, asking Comey along the way whether there was a “revolt” at the FBI after the agency said there was “no case”:
Later in the White House during the Feb. 8 meeting, then chief of staff Reince Priebus picked up the same theme, asking Comey why Clinton wasn’t charged with “gross negligence”:
Relaying that Mike Flynn forgot to tell him a major world leader called. Flynn, the former national security adviser, was already on the outs with Trump on Jan. 28, Trump told Comey. (Flynn resigned on Feb. 13 over controversy about his contacts with Russia, after the Justice Department warned the White House he hadn’t been upfront about them.) The president thought British prime minister Theresa May was the first world leader to call him after his inauguration, but Flynn forgot to tell him that it was actually someone else, Comey writes, spelling May’s first name incorrectly:
Comey and Trump talked about jailing reporters. After details of Trump’s private conversations with Mexican and Australian (paywall) world leaders were leaked, the two spoke on Feb. 14 about how dangerous leaks are, and how to punish leakers. Maybe Trump should “put a head on a pike as a message,” Comey said. Maybe we should jail reporters, Trump said. Comey laughed as he walked out the door:
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