WASHINGTON – President Trump pressed now-fired FBI Director James Comey to shut down the agency's inquiry into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, The New York Times reported Tuesday, citing a memo containing Comey's notes from the meeting.
According to the report, Trump asked to meet with Comey alone following a national security briefing involving Vice President Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
"I hope you can let this go,'' Trump told Comey during a February meeting at the White House, according to portions of the memo that was read to the newspaper.
Trump was apparently referring to the bureau's ongoing counterintelligence inquiry into possible collusion between Trump campaign associates – including Flynn – and Russian officials seeking to influence the presidential election. Trump abruptly fired Comey last week.
The White House strongly disputed the claim late Wednesday. "While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General 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 General Flynn," the White House said in a statement.
While the Times called the memo "a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence an ongoing investigation," the White House insisted it did no such thing.
"The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations," the White House said. "This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”
On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, Democrats pounced on the latest revelation as evidence that Trump tried to block the investigation into his campaign.
"Just leaving Senate floor," tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. "Just leaving Senate floor. Lots of chatter from Ds and Rs about the exact definition of 'obstruction of justice.'"
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, demanded Comey return to brief lawmakers on what he knows.
"Enough is enough," Schiff said. "Congress really needs to get to the bottom of this."
Comey "needs to come back before the Congress,” Schiff said, and “share with the public what conversations he had with the president" – including whether Trump tried to obstruct the investigation in any way.
Congress should also subpoena the reported Comey memos, he added. “We ought to ask if there are notes. Notes that were taken around the time of the conversation would be, I think, very powerful evidence of what took place during those conversations," he said, also referencing the president's recent suggestion that conversations with the former FBI director may have been secretly recorded. "If the president was being truthful in the threat to Director Comey that he had tapes or might have tapes, we are going to want to get a hold of those.”
Trump said Comey should consider jailing reporters for publishing classified info, one of Comey's associates said https://t.co/foPssY5YhK— The New York Times (@nytimes) May 16, 2017
The meeting in question took place Feb. 14, the day after Trump fired Flynn because he had misled colleagues – including Vice President Pence – about the substance of phone calls he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.
The FBI has been reviewing Flynn's contacts with Kislyak prior to Trump’s inauguration, in which he discussed sanctions the Obama administration imposed on Russia. Those conversations were secretly monitored by federal authorities, as are most communications involving foreign diplomats. Flynn initially denied discussing the sanctions, but later said the subject may have surfaced.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, which along with the House Intelligence Committee is probing Russian interference in the 2016 elections, recently asked Flynn and other former Trump advisers to provide information about their activities.
Flynn also is also now under investigation by the Pentagon Inspector General for failing to inform Defense Department officials about seeking payments from foreign governments.