This is What Obstruction Looks Like: Trump and Comey
President Donald Trump sought loyalty and cooperation from FBI Director James Comey.
When he didn’t get it, he fired Comey and initially lied about the reason for the dismissal before later admitting it had to do with the Russia investigation.
This summary of possible obstruction of justice by the president is drawn from information found in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s attack on our election.
Incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn lied to Vice President Mike Pence, other administration officials and FBI agents when he denied that he had talked to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about Russia’s response to U.S. sanctions for its election interference.
On Jan. 27, 2017, the day after Trump was told about Flynn’s lying, he invited then-FBI Director James Comey to a private dinner at the White House, where he told Comey he needed loyalty.
Trump eventually requested Flynn’s resignation on Feb. 13 of that year. The next day he told an outside adviser, “Now that we fired Flynn the Russian thing is over.”
Later that afternoon, the president cleared the Oval Office to have a one-on-one meeting with Comey. Referring to the FBI’s investigation of Flynn, the president said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
Shortly after that, the president sought to have Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland draft an internal letter stating that he had not directed Flynn to discuss sanctions with Kislyak.
McFarland declined because she did not know whether that was true, and a White House Counsel’s Office attorney thought that the request would look like a quid pro quo for an ambassadorship she had been offered.
Trump ignored guidance from White House Counsel Don McGahn to avoid direct contacts with the Department of Justice and called Comey directly twice. Comey had previously assured Trump that the FBI wasn’t investigating him personally, and the president asked him to “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation by saying that publicly.
Comey wouldn’t last much longer.
On May 3, 2017, Comey testified in a congressional hearing, but declined to answer questions about whether Trump was personally under investigation. Within days, the president decided to fire him.
The president insisted that the termination letter, which was written for public release, state that Comey had informed him that he was not under investigation. Something he couldn’t get Comey to say publicly.
The day of the firing, the White House claimed that Comey’s termination resulted from independent recommendations from the attorney general and deputy attorney general that Comey should be discharged for mishandling the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
However, within days Trump was telling a different story.
During a television interview, Trump acknowledged that he was going to fire Comey regardless of the Department of Justice’s recommendation, and that when he “decided to just do it,” he was thinking that “this thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”
In response to a question about whether he was angry with Comey about the Russia investigation, the president said, “As far as I’m concerned, I want that thing to be absolutely done properly,” adding that firing Comey “might even lengthen out the investigation.”
Also, the president told Russian officials that he had “faced great pressure because of Russia,” which had been “taken off” by Comey’s firing.