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White House Denies Comey's Account Of Trump Meeting

May 17, 2017
Originally published on May 17, 2017 6:26 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

According to a memo written by former FBI Director James Comey, President Trump asked Comey to drop the bureau's investigation of the former national security adviser Michael Flynn's connections to Russia. This story was first reported by The New York Times. But NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been reporting this out as well, and she joins us. Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: So the White House is denying that the president asked anyone to stop any investigation, which seems to contradict this memo written by FBI Director James Comey when he was in the job. What exactly have you learned about this memo and what it says?

JOHNSON: I spoke with multiple associates of James Comey. They said that he met with President Trump in the White House in February a day after General Mike Flynn lost his job. They were there for another meeting. President Trump apparently said to the attorney general and the vice president, go ahead; leave the room. And then Trump - according to this memo and the sources with whom I spoke - Trump said to Comey, I hope you can let this go, in connection with the investigation of Mike Flynn, the ongoing investigation.

I'm told Comey gave a non-response response, left the White House and then committed this meeting to memory and memorialized it in a memo that's very, very detailed. This wasn't the first conversation with the president that he put into writing. There are other memos as well, David. And he wrote them simultaneous to these meetings. So they're - they're kind of a contemporary record of his account of what happened in his contacts with Trump. I asked one of Comey's associates why he did this - the answer, he was concerned.

GREENE: Well, the White House is saying that the president did not ask for any investigation to be stopped. But if he did say something like, let this go, is that or could that be obstruction of justice?

JOHNSON: David, it's a fine line. I don't know enough to say right now, nor does anybody else. But clearly people are going to want to read these documents that James Comey created, and they're going to want to hear from him as well. We do know there was an ongoing investigation. The president was apparently leaning on the FBI director, according to Comey's memo, to get rid of this investigation. But one of my sources says it was an ask not a command. Comey left the meeting, and the investigation proceeded anyway, no matter what Donald Trump said.

GREENE: So this might actually come down to Comey's word against the president's, sort of a he-said-he-said sort of thing. I mean, could that be resolved in some way?

JOHNSON: I think it will be resolved. In fact, Jason Chaffetz, a House member from Utah, Republican who leads an important oversight committee, has already sent a demand to the FBI to produce by next week any memos, recordings, transcripts it has. And I expect the FBI to comply in due course.

A big question, David, is whether the White House is going to turn over any transcripts, recordings it may have of these meetings with James Comey. Remember, Comey was fired by the president last week. He wasn't allowed back into the building. The FBI still has these materials. He created them at the time.

GREENE: And could Comey be brought in to testify?

JOHNSON: I think he could be brought in to testify in a court of law. More likely, if things proceed in this fashion and something really is there, David, we could be talking about a trial in the Congress, an impeachment proceeding rather than a criminal court proceeding - in part because there's an ongoing legal debate about whether the president can be indicted in office.

GREENE: All right, NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks.

JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.