Lawmakers Respond To Reports Trump Asked Comey To End Flynn Probe

May 16, 2017
Originally published on May 16, 2017 11:43 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's been another day of damage control at the White House. The Trump administration was already on the defensive over reports that the president revealed classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador at a White House meeting last week. And now another bombshell - The New York Times is reporting on a memo drafted by former FBI Director James Comey. It says the president asked Comey to shut down the federal investigation of Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. The White House is denying that story. And NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now from the White House.

Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: This request from the president supposedly came back in February. What can you tell us about it?

HORSLEY: Well, The Times says that the president met with Comey in the Oval Office one day after Michael Flynn had been fired as national security adviser. Comey documented that meeting in a memo and also discussed it at the time with some of his senior FBI colleagues. According to The New York Times, Comey described the president as telling him, I hope you can let this go, referring to the investigation of Flynn.

Now, the White House is denying this. A White House official put out a statement saying the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation. And the statement also points to testimony last week by acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who told lawmakers that the White House had not interfered with any investigation.

SHAPIRO: If a president asks his FBI director to end an investigation into one of the president's former aides, does that constitute obstruction of justice?

HORSLEY: Well, that, of course, will be the big question here. Certainly, according to The New York Times, Comey and his aides perceive Mr. Trump as trying to influence the investigation. And if that interpretation is correct, then the existence of this memo would be the clearest evidence that the president was meddling in a Justice Department or FBI probe.

SHAPIRO: Scott, the pace of revelations here is just stunning. This is the second major story in as many days that the White House has tried to rebut. They were already under fire for reports that Trump revealed classified information to the Russians. How have they been pushing back against that story?

HORSLEY: Right. Well, yesterday, it was The Washington Post, followed by others, who said that in his meeting last week with the Russian foreign minister, Trump had revealed information about an ISIS threat that was so sensitive it had not even been shared widely within the U.S. government. Today, we heard from the National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who insisted Trump didn't do anything wrong.

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H R MCMASTER: It is wholly appropriate for the president to share whatever information he thinks is necessary to advance the security of the American people.

HORSLEY: After that meeting last week, however, the president's own counterterrorism adviser was concerned enough about what the president has said that he alerted U.S. intelligence agencies.

SHAPIRO: Explain what the concern would be about the president sharing this sort of information with the Russians.

HORSLEY: The worry is that in sharing the information, Trump might have compromised future intelligence-gathering operations. Now, White House officials have been very specific in rebutting these reports. They say the president did not tell the Russians exactly how the information was obtained, what the intelligence community calls sources and methods. In fact, McMaster said today, Trump couldn't have disclosed that kind of information.

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MCMASTER: The president wasn't even aware, you know, of where this information came from. He wasn't briefed on the source or method of the information either.

HORSLEY: But even if the president, himself, didn't know the sources and methods, the concern is that the information he gave the Russians was specific enough they could figure out where it came from, and that might compromise future intelligence gathering.

SHAPIRO: This cannot be good for the larger Trump agenda, Scott.

HORSLEY: No, it's been one chaotic chapter after another. It's certainly taking a toll. Staffers here at the White House look fatigued. The president himself looked fatigued when he was meeting with the visiting president of Turkey. And even some of the Republican allies on Capitol Hill have begun to express frustration that this is interfering with their effort to cut taxes and repeal Obamacare.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Scott Horsley, thanks very much.

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