Multiple news outlets are now reporting that James Comey wrote in a memo that Donald Trump asked him to drop the FBI’s investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Here’s the New York Times story that started it all:
President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.
“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.
The Times does not have a copy of the memo and claims instead that a Comey associate read excerpts to a reporter:
Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of the memo to a Times reporter.
The Trump administration is denying Trump made the request, writing in an unsigned statement:
“The president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end an investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn. . . . This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.’’
The analysis here is pretty simple. If the memo exists, then there is compelling evidence that the president committed a potentially impeachable offense. Here is the alleged chain of events: First, Trump asked Comey to drop an investigation of a close former associate and a former senior official in his administration. Second, Comey refused. Third, weeks later Trump fired Comey. Fourth, Trump then misled the American people regarding the reason for the dismissal. Each prong is important, but it’s worth noting that the fourth prong — Trump’s deception regarding the reason for Comey’s termination — is particularly problematic in context. Deception is classic evidence of malign intent.
If true, this is a serious abuse of power, and a Republican Congress would certainly impeach a Democrat if the roles were reversed. But — and this is vitally important to everyone at DEFCON 1 on Twitter — we don’t know yet if the New York Times account is true. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr raised reasonable objections:
“I actually believe the director might have told us that there’d been a request like that and it was never mentioned by him,” the North Carolina Republican told reporters. “So somebody’s going to have to do more than have anonymous sources on this one for me to believe that there’s something there.”
Lindsay Graham — no fan of Trump — also raised a legitimate point:
“If this happened, the FBI director should have done something about it or quit,” Graham said. “If the president asked the FBI director to do something inappropriate, the FBI director should have said no and quit.”
The bottom line is that Americans need to see the memo, if it exists. The gravity of the accusation demands immediate Congressional action. Burr’s committee should subpoena that memo and every memo or other document reflecting the content of conversations between Comey and President Trump. Do it today. Burr told reporters that the “burden is on the New York Times” to produce the memo, but that’s absurd. The Times doesn’t have the ability to compel its production. House and Senate committees do, and they need to do their job.
There is no good outcome here. Either there is now compelling evidence that the president committed a serious abuse of power, or the nation’s leading press outlets are dupes for a vindictive, misleading story. Either outcome violates the public trust in vital American institutions. Either outcome results in a degree of political chaos. If the memo is real and as damaging as the Times claims, the chaos is likely greater, but don’t underestimate the cultural and political damage if our nation’s most prestigious press outlets run a story of this magnitude based on a malicious fiction. It’s time for facts and documents, not anonymity and allegations. It’s time for the truth.