President Donald Trumpasked former FBI Director James Comeyin a phone call when federal authorities would publicly announce the president wasnt under suspicion in the bureaus investigation of possible Trump campaign ties to Russia, The New York Times reported Thursday.
Two people briefed on the call told the newspaper it took place just weeks after Trumps inauguration.Comey declined to answer the question.
Trumps inquiry to the FBI director was one of several instances in which his administration directly asked about the FBI probe into whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the presidential election.
In February, senior White House officials confirmed that Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asked FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to publicly dispute reports of communications between Trump campaign officials and Russia.
This week, The New York Times reported that Comey wrote in a February memo that the president had asked him to drop the bureaus investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired after he failed to disclose communications with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Benjamin Wittes, a friend of Comey and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, was quoted by the Times in Thursdays article saying that Comey was deeply concerned by the administrations requests.
Comey spent a great deal of energy doing what he alternately described as training the White House that officials had to go through the Justice Department and reestablishing normal hands-off White House-Bureau relations, Wittes wrote on the Lawfare blog, of which he is the editor-in-chief, after the Times article was published.
Comey understood Trumps people as having neither knowledge of nor respect for the independence of the law enforcement function,Wittes added. And he saw it as an ongoing task on his part to protect the rest of the Bureau from improper contacts and interferences from a group of people he did not regard as honorable.
The Justice Department has long sought to keep an appropriate distance from the White House. A 2009 memo from then-Attorney General Eric Holder set guidelines about interactions, noting the DOJ would only advise the administration concerning pending or contemplated criminal or civil investigations when but only when it is important for the performance of the Presidents duties and appropriate form a law enforcement perspective.
Trump abruptly fired Comeylast week, and included an unusual passage in his dismissal letter saying he greatly appreciated Comey informing him on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation.Trump reiterated that point in an interview with NBC News Lester Holt the next day, claiming the director told him there was no such investigation once over dinner and twice on the phone.
One day later, reports surfaced abouta dinner in which Trump asked Comey for his loyalty.Comey reportedly declined to make such a pledge.
According to Wittes, Comey was deeply unsettled with Trumps attempts at rapprochement, and told the story of a White House ceremony days after Trump took office that Comey was invited to attend. The FBI director didnt feel comfortable attending, and tried to blend in with the curtains in the back of the room, Wittes wrote. But the president saw him and drew him in for an awkward hug.
Trump initially cited Comeys handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation for the firing, but later said he had considered the ongoing Russia probe before giving Comey the boot.
I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it, Trump told NBC News. And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, its an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election.
Amid growing questions over the firing, and calls for an independent investigation,Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Wednesday appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to serve as special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election.
Rosenstein said he appointed Mueller so the American people will havefull confidence in the outcome of the investigation.
Trump on Thursday said the appointment hurts our country terribly and called the Russia probe a witch hunt.
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