Q&A: Here’s what you need to know about Comey’s memo on a conversation with Trump

Then-FBI Director James B. Comey testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 3.
Then-FBI Director James B. Comey testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 3.
(Shawn Thew / European Pressphoto Agency)

It’s the latest chapter in the continuing saga of President Trump’s ties to Russia.

On Tuesday, reports surfaced of a memo written by then-FBI Director James B. Comey recording the highlights of a conversation he had with Trump in February about Michael Flynn, who had recently resigned as national security advisor.

Comey, whom Trump fired last week, oversaw a federal investigation of Flynn that centers on his ties to Russia while he worked on Trump’s campaign last year. That FBI investigation remains open.

Here’s some of what we know about the memo:

Why did Comey write the memo?

It’s simple: He routinely took notes on conversations he had with the president.

On Feb. 13, Flynn resigned after it was revealed he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about phone conversations he had with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States.

A day after his firing, according to accounts first published in the New York Times and later confirmed by the Los Angeles Times, Trump and Comey met one-on-one in the Oval Office.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump told Comey, according to the memo shared with several news organizations. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

What was Comey’s response to Trump?

He responded cautiously to Trump’s request.

“I agree he is a good guy,” Comey responded to Trump, reports say.

Then, upon leaving the meeting, Comey wrote out the memo, which he then shared with senior FBI officials.

I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.

— President Trump, according to a memo reportedly written by then-FBI Director James B. Comey

What has the White House said about the memo?

In a statement released late Tuesday, the administration pushed back against reports of the memo and Comey’s reported account.

“While the President has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn,” the statement said. “The President has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the President and Mr. Comey.”

Comey is no longer at the FBI, so what’s the current status of Flynn’s investigation?

Flynn, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, has kept a low profile since he was fired.

And even with Comey’s ouster, the FBI continues to investigate Flynn, who served as an advisor to Trump on the campaign.

In recent months, a federal grand jury in Virginia has issued subpoenas for records related to Flynn. The FBI has not announced when its investigation will be complete.

What has Trump said publicly about Flynn?

The president has called stories about ties between his campaign and Russia “fake news,” even as intelligence officials have said that Russian hacking attempted to influence the 2016 election.

Since he accepted Flynn’s resignation, Trump has repeatedly defended Flynn. In February, he said Flynn suffered “unfair” treatment leading up to his dismissal. At the time, Trump was focused on the leaks that revealed Flynn had lied to members of the administration, including Pence, about his contacts with Russians.

“It’s very unfair what happened to Gen. Flynn and the documents and papers that were illegally leaked,” he said at a news conference in February. “It’s really a sad thing that he was treated so badly.”

What other interesting revelations came from the Comey memo?

It seems that Trump wants to lock up reporters who receive leaked information.

Trump reportedly told Comey he should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information.

At his news conference in February, when he discussed Flynn, Trump said of leaks:

“It’s a criminal act and it’s been going on for a long time.”

What have members of Congress said about the memo?

On Tuesday night, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said on social media that Congress needs to see the Comey memo.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he was “shaken” by reports of the Comey memo, adding that “the country is being tested in unprecedented ways.”

Can Trump be impeached on the basis of what’s been revealed?

It’s unclear.

Trump’s comments to Comey might be viewed as an obstruction of justice, which was the basis of the impeachment efforts against Presidents Nixon and Clinton.

The House Judiciary Committee launched an impeachment process against Nixon in the 1970s associated with the Watergate scandal. He resigned in 1974 before he was indicted or prosecuted. Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives in 1998 — but ultimately acquitted by the Senate — for charges stemming from his affair with a White House intern and his testimony in another case involving allegations of extramarital sex.

Trump so far has faced little pushback from the Republican-controlled Congress.

Time will tell if that changes.

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