Another bombshell rocks Trump’s presidency


CNN Politics:  Nightcap
May 16, 2017   |   by Eric Bradner and Daniella Diaz

Comey memo: Trump asked for FBI to drop Flynn probe

Another blockbuster report has rocked President Donald Trump‘s White House and left Republicans on Capitol Hill reeling. And in a week filled with damaging revelations, this one appears to be the biggest yet.

Tonight’s news: Trump asked FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn‘s ties to Russia, according to a memo Comey drafted immediately after a February meeting with Trump in the Oval Office. The story was broken by The New York Times’ Michael Schmidt — the same reporter who revealed the existence of Hillary Clinton‘s private email server. 

Per Comey’s memo, Trump said: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” And: “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” 

More details from CNN’s Jake Tapper, Pamela Brown and Dan Merica: Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions had been in the meeting with Comey — but before making the Flynn request, Trump asked Pence and Sessions to leave the room, per Comey’s memo. Comey was “concerned” that the President was trying to “stop the investigation,” a source told CNN. “He wrote a number of memos, a great many if not all were about contacts with Trump — particularly the ones that made him feel uneasy.” The source said Comey hopes the President’s threats about “tapes” of their conversations indicate there are actually recordings of their conversations. “He would love to have them,” the source said. “One of his reasons for writing these memos is the concern this couldn’t be corroborated — but that could be met if there are tapes.”

Congress wants the memo — and to hear from Comey. Sen. Lindsey Graham, chairman of a judiciary subcommittee investigating Russia, said Comey should testify before his panel. House Speaker Paul Ryan‘s spokeswoman said he wants the Comey memo. House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz tweeted this:

The White House’s pushback: “While the President has repeatedly expressed his view that Gen. 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 Gen. Flynn,” a White House official said in a statement. “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.”

STRAIGHT UP

“The country is being tested in unprecedented ways. I say to all of my colleagues in the Senate, history is watching.”

 

— Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, on the Senate floor tonight.

BAR TALK

So why didn’t Comey speak up?

Let’s start with this exchange, from a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on May 3:

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal: “Would you tell this committee if there is a lack of cooperation on the part of the White House?”

Then-FBI Director James Comey: “I won’t commit to that.” 

The question is — why not? Why did Comey never raise this conversation, which CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin says appears to be an obstruction of justice on Trump’s part, with lawmakers — or the White House counsel — or someone other than close associates at the FBI? 

CNN’s Gloria Borger shines some light on that question. She spoke to a friend of Trump’s who has knowledge of the legal issues surrounding Comey, who says that Comey should not have gone to Congress with the information he memoralized. This source points out that Comey “was in the middle of an ongoing investigation, everybody would lawyer up and head for the hills.”
 
The source says Comey did the right thing: Made notes of his conversation and sent it to another member of his leadership team. “It’s textbook,” the source says. The source also adds that Comey was not required to inform the Justice Department.
 
In terms of whether Trump actually meant to obstruct an investigation, the source says that “motive always matters” especially since this is “he said, he said.” But the Trump friend worries about Trump in this instance and says, “He better hope there aren’t any tapes.” In a criminal case, motive is important. But a political case is a different story. The source also called the White House’s spin laughable. “Comey is conducting an active investigation. He has no duty to inform Congress of anything. If he did that it would leak on the Hill in a minute,” the source said.

BUZZING

Trump welcomes Erdogan amid US-Turkey strains: President Donald Trump, in hosting Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House, extended his latest warm welcome to an authoritarian-style leader who had a strained relationship with the previous US administration. “We’ve had a great relationship and we will make it even better,” Trump said. More from CNN’s Nicole Gaouette.

LAST CALL

3 things you might have missed today

Cornyn removes himself from consideration for FBI director role: GOP Sen. John Cornyn‘s decision comes after his own Senate colleagues suggested he might not be right for the job, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recommending former Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland over Cornyn for the job. More from CNN’s Tom LoBianco.

Cummings says GOP would have already impeached Clinton: Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings said that House Republicans would have already impeached Hillary Clinton if she had done a fraction of what Donald Trump has done as President. More from CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski.

McMaster declines to say whether Western Wall is in Israel: National security adviser H.R. McMaster declined to say whether the Western Wall is in Israel, furthering a controversy over the site ahead of Trump’s visit to the country next week. He said questions about the location of the Western Wall — one of the holiest sites in Judaism — “sounds like a policy decision.” More from CNN’s Kevin Liptak.

CLOSING TIME

The intelligence behind the US ban on laptops and other electronics is considered so highly classified that CNN, at the request of US government officials, withheld key details from a March 31 story on the travel restrictions. … A source says Judge Merrick Garland is not interested in leaving the judiciary amid speculation he could be a candidate to replace James Comey as FBI director.
Thanks for reading the CNN Politics Nightcap. Your bartenders are Eric Bradner and Daniella Diaz. The tip jar: nightcap@cnn.com.
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Your bartenders for CNN Politics’ Nightcap are Eric Bradner (@ericbradner) and Daniella Diaz (@DaniellaMicaela)— Tips, thoughts and beer recommendations are always welcome at nightcap@cnn.com.
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