Former FBI director James Comey arrives to speak about his book, A Higher Loyalty, in New York on April 18 2018. Picture: REUTERS
Former FBI director James Comey arrives to speak about his book, A Higher Loyalty, in New York on April 18 2018. Picture: REUTERS

Washington — President Donald Trump praised James Comey for his honourable conduct during the 2016 campaign, sought out his loyalty, and asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director to let go of an investigation into his former national security adviser, according to memos Comey wrote to document private conversations.

These aspects of Comey’s meetings with Trump — which took place before he was fired by the president in May 2017 — are detailed in memos the Justice Department turned over on Thursday to House of Congress committees.

The memos track broadly with accounts of those discussions Comey has given in public testimony to Congress and his new bestselling book.

After the contents of the memos were released, Trump wrote on Twitter late Thursday night that they "show clearly that there was NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION".

The memos chronicle wide-ranging discussions, with Trump flattering Comey and displaying an eagerness to disprove a story about his involvement with Russian prostitutes.

They also portray a president displaying moments of candour as he tried to persuade the FBI director to declare the president was not personally under investigation.

The partially redacted memos of former FBI director James Comey, recounting conversations with President Donald Trump last year, are pictured after US Justice Department released them to three House of Representatives committees in Washington, DC, on April 19 2018. Picture: REUTERS
The partially redacted memos of former FBI director James Comey, recounting conversations with President Donald Trump last year, are pictured after US Justice Department released them to three House of Representatives committees in Washington, DC, on April 19 2018. Picture: REUTERS

Trump is also described as telling Comey he had his own serious reservations about the judgment of his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

The memos were immediately cited by House Republicans as proving Trump did nothing improper in his dealings with Comey, while Democrats hailed them as bolstering the case that the president tried to interfere with an FBI investigation.

Comey has said he wrote the memos to document his conversations with Trump because he found them troubling. He told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Trump asked him in February 2017 to shut down the federal investigation into Flynn, who served only briefly as Trump’s national security adviser before being ousted.

Trump "said, ‘I hope you can see your way to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go,’" Comey wrote to document a February 14 2017 conversation, according to one of the memos released on Thursday. "I replied by saying, ‘I agree he is a good guy,’ but said no more."

In a memo dated March 30, Comey describes Trump complaining to him about how the cloud cast by the Russia inquiry was impairing his ability to run the country and that he was eager for the FBI director to make clear publicly that he was not under investigation.

Book factor

The Justice Department agreed to give Congress the Comey memos after House judiciary chairman Bob Goodlatte threatened to issue a subpoena for them.

The push by Republicans to obtain the memos came after the release this week of Comey’s memoir, A Higher Loyalty, and several interviews in which he portrays the president as a liar and immoral.

Some Republicans had complained that Comey had been talking about the memos on his book tour even as the Justice Department was withholding them from legislators.

According to Comey’s memos, Trump said he was going to sue Christopher Steele, the British ex-spy who compiled an unverified dossier alleging links between Russia and Trump and his associates.

Republicans said the memos showed that the "cloud" Trump wanted lifted wasn’t Russian interference in the 2016 election, but instead the more salacious allegations in the dossier, which included claims that Russians had tapes of him with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel in 2013.

"There were no prostitutes. There were never prostitutes," Comey quoted Trump as telling him in one memo dated April 19.

Putin and hookers

Comey also wrote that Trump told him "the hookers thing" from the Steele dossier was nonsense, although the president described how Russian President Vladimir Putin had told him "we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world". It was not clear when Putin told Trump that, Comey said.

In the pivotal one-on-one meeting where Trump urged Comey to let the Flynn inquiry go, Comey said the president also complained about people leaking the details of his conversations with world leaders and suggested reporters might have to be jailed to get them to talk.

"They spend a couple days in jail, make a new friend, and are ready to talk," Comey quoted the president as saying.

Trump specifically noted Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter jailed after she declined to name her source in the leaking of CIA officer Valerie Plame’s identity.

Miller testified for the prosecution against former White House aide Scooter Libby, who was pardoned last week by Trump.

Some aides to House intelligence and Senate judiciary members already had been permitted to read the Comey memos in secure settings.

Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House oversight and government reform committee, said in a statement that Comey’s "contemporaneous memos provide strong corroborating evidence of everything he said about President Trump — that the president wanted his personal loyalty, that he wanted to end the Russia investigation, and that he wanted Michael Flynn to walk".

Questions about disclosure

Republicans are seeking to spur debate over whether Comey may have violated Justice Department rules by sharing memos with a law school professor, given that department officials had maintained they had not yet determined whether the documents contained classified material.

Goodlatte — joined by intelligence chairman Devin Nunes, and oversight and government reform chairman Trey Gowdy — wrote a letter last Friday to deputy attorney-general Rod Rosenstein arguing there was no legal basis to withhold the documents.

Nunes, Gowdy and Goodlatte released a statement on Thursday night saying the memos showed Comey was inconsistent and overlooked bias inside the FBI.

"As we have consistently said, rather than making a criminal case for obstruction or interference with an ongoing investigation, these memos would be defence exhibit A should such a charge be made," they said.

Cummings, in his statement, also noted that the documents turned over on Thursday night showed that a memo dated February 14 2017, which Comey shared with the law professor — and which was leaked to a news outlet — is clearly marked "UNCLASSIFIED".

He noted that contradicts some Republican claims that Comey broke department rules by facilitating an illegal leak.

Bloomberg

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