What We Learn From Comey's Memos

Apr 20, 2018
Originally published on April 20, 2018 11:52 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Comey memos are now out in the open. These are the contemporaneous notes that the former FBI director took after each of his interactions with President Trump. That's something Comey discussed in his public testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last June.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES COMEY: I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document. That combination of things, I'd never experienced before. But it led me to believe I've got to write it down, and I've got to write it down in a very detailed way.

MARTIN: So what can we learn from these newly revealed memos? NPR's Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department, and he is in the studio with us this morning. Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: All right. Let's start with the basics. Why are these memos coming out now?

LUCAS: Well, a number of senior Republicans in the House have really been putting the screws to the Justice Department for the past several months for more documents related to the Russia investigation. They've even threatened to subpoena the Justice Department over these things. And the Justice Department yesterday agreed and sent up these memos to the House, as well as certain committees in the Senate. And within no time at all, these documents had leaked to the press.

MARTIN: All right. So as you looked through copies of these documents, what struck you?

LUCAS: Well, a lot of the language that Comey uses in these memos is language that we've actually heard from him before, one, in his testimony to Congress and, two, in his book in his book tour, which is of course still ongoing. But I have to say, it's rare that we get this sort of look into high-level White House conversations, and the detail the depth of the conversations that we see here is really pretty stunning. So from the memos, it's clear that the president was concerned about the Russia investigation, repeatedly said it was a cloud hanging over his administration and even said that it was preventing him from being able to govern the way that he wants. He repeatedly brings up this unverified dossier that alleges among other things an interaction that Trump purportedly had with Russian prostitutes in Moscow in 2013. And at one point, Trump pushes Comey to go after leakers. The president says it may involve putting reporters in jail. And Comey relates that Trump said, you know, reporters spend a couple of days in jail, and then they're ready to talk. Comey says he laughed at that as he left the room.

But one thing that really sticks out relates to Michael Flynn, of course, President Trump's first national security adviser. Trump expressed concern to Comey about Flynn's judgment. This was as early as January. And then later, the president's chief of staff at the time, Reince Priebus, asked Comey whether the FBI had wiretapped Flynn. Comey answered the question - the answer is redacted in the memos - but said in the future, those sorts of questions have to go through Justice Department leadership. And, of, course Flynn was fired a couple of days after that conversation and has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

MARTIN: So we know the president has been online this morning. He tweeted earlier the following. Quote, "so General Michael Flynn's life can be totally destroyed while shady James Comey can leak and lie and make lots of money from a third-rate book that should never have been written. Is that really the way life in America is supposed to work? I don't think so," end quote. So clearly the president has his own opinion about James Comey and those memos. Meanwhile, we need to address the fact that former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, who was fired right before he was supposed to retire, he could be facing criminal charges now.

LUCAS: That's right. The Justice Department inspector general has asked prosecutors in D.C. to look into whether McCabe should face criminal charges. This is related to the IG report that was made public last week which alleged wrongdoing, alleged a lack of candor on McCabe's part in misleading investigators about information that was released to The Wall Street Journal in 2016. Now, referrals like this are not uncommon. They don't mean that prosecutors will open a criminal investigation. They might not. A spokesman for McCabe says the referral is unjustified, and McCabe and his legal team believe that prosecutors will decline to prosecute, unless they say there's inappropriate pressure from the administration.

MARTIN: One more thing to note today. Donald Trump has a new personal lawyer on his team.

LUCAS: Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York and a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

MARTIN: Says he's going to push for an end to the Mueller probe. So we'll see how that goes. NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thanks so much, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.