Friday, April 20, 2018

Details of the Comey memos

James Comey's memos about his meetings with Donald Trump have finally been released by the Justice Department. The declassified and redacted memos have been posted online and the media is having a field day exploring Comey's notes about Trump.

The memos begin with an explanation by Comey that they were typed in car immediately after leaving the White House. He explains that the memos are not direct quotes, but were intended to “capture the substance of what was said.”

The first memo

In their first meeting on Jan. 6, other staff members left the room so that President-elect Trump and Comey could discuss a sensitive matter, that of the Steele dossier, on behalf of James Clapper, the CIA director. Trump told Comey that he (Comey) “had one heck of year but that I had conducted myself honorably and had a great reputation. He said I was put repeatedly in impossible positions. He said you saved her and then they hated you for what you did later, but what choice did you have? He said he thought very highly of me and looked forward to working with me, saying he hoped I planned to stay on.”

These comments took place in private so no one can verify them, but it was a few weeks after this on Jan. 24 that Trump did announce that Comey would be retained as FBI Director in the new administration. These compliments stand in stark contrast to Trump's tweets over the past year. The president undoubtedly regrets his decision to keep Comey.

Comey described the reports that the Russians had tapes of Trump with prostitutes at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow in 2013. Trump replied that he didn't need to “go there” and laughed, which Comey took to mean that Trump didn't need to pay for sex. Trump also said that he “always assumed that hotel rooms he stayed in when he travels are wired in some way.”

Comey said that the reports were not necessarily true, but that he was telling the president because “CNN had them and were looking for a news hook.” Comey told the president that they were “not investigating him,” but that “our job was to protect the president from efforts to coerce him.”

The second memo

On Jan. 28, 2017, Trump and Comey had dinner. Trump again asked Comey if he wanted to stay in his job and Comey answered that he did if that was what the president wanted.

In passage that Comey undoubtedly regrets writing, he told the president, “I said I don't do sneaky things. I don't leak. I don't do weasel moves.” Looking at these statements in 20/20 hindsight significantly undercuts Comey's credibility.

The two men discussed the Clinton email investigation and Comey told the president that “the investigators all agreed there was no case.” Trump disagreed. Comey also told the president about being directed not to use the word “investigation.”

The president also asked about Andrew McCabe, who was the FBI's deputy director at the time, saying, “I was pretty rough on him and his wife during the campaign.”

Comey says he “explained that Andy was a true professional and had no problem at all. I then explained what FBI people were like, that whatever there [sic] personal views, they strip them when they step into their bureau roles and actually hold 'political people' in slight contempt without regard to party.”

Trump again brought up the “golden showers thing” and said that he had not stayed overnight in Russia for the Miss Universe pageant. He suggested that he might have the FBI investigate the allegations to disprove them. Comey replied that “it was up to him, but I wouldn't want to create a narrative that we were investigating him, because we are not and I worried that such a thing would be misconstrued. I also said it is very difficult to disprove a lie.”

It was at this meeting that Trump asked Comey for his “loyalty” on two occasions. The president said that James Mattis and Jeff Sessions spoke highly of Comey and said, “I need loyalty.” Comey replied that the president would get honesty from him. The president said the he wanted “honesty, loyalty.”

“You will get that from me,” Comey said, adding they they may have understood the phrase differently, but “I decided it would not be productive to push the subject further.”

In discussing who should be Comey's contact in the White House, Trump expressed doubt about Mike Flynn, saying, “The guy has serious judgment issues.” He related the story of how a world leader whose name was redacted was the first to call after the inauguration and Flynn did not tell the president for six days.

The third memo

In the third memo, dated Feb. 8, Comey met with Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. The meeting apparently followed shortly on the dinner with Trump. Some details are redacted, but Priebus asks about a “report” that appears to have referenced the allegations from the Steele dossier. Comey replied that “portions of the material were corroborated by other intelligence.”

Priebus then asked whether there was “a FISA order on Mike Flynn.” Comey's answer is redacted and the then explains that this sort of question should follow proper channels.

Priebus asked why Hillary Clinton couldn't be prosecuted for “gross negligence” and Comey says he explained the “facts and the law. At some point, I added that it wasn't my fault that Huma Abedin had forwarded emails to Anthony Weiner.”

The two then went to the Oval Office to speak to the president. Trump again asked about McCabe and whether he ever mentioned the campaign attacks to Comey. “Never,” Comey answered.

The president then brought up the “golden showers thing” again and denied it as he had previously. Trump said “'the hookers thing' is nonsense,” but that “Putin had told him 'we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world'” without saying where or when this conversation had taken place.

The meeting ended with a conversation about Trump's interview with Bill O'Reilly. Trump said that O'Reilly's question about whether he respected Putin was a tough question, but he had answered that he does respect him as the leader of a major country. Trump asked Comey whether he thought the answer was satisfactory.

Comey said, “The answer was fine except the part about killers, because we aren't the kind of killers that Putin is. When I said this, the president paused noticeably. I don't know what to make of it, but he clearly noticed I had directly criticized him.”

The fourth memo

The next memo is from Feb. 14. After a meeting, the president made everyone else leave and then told Comey he wanted “to talk about Mike Flynn.” Trump repeatedly gave his opinion that Flynn “hadn't done anything wrong” in talking to the Russians, but had been fired because he “misled the vice president” in addition to “other concerns.”

Before Comey left, the president repeated that Flynn was a “good guy” who didn't do anything wrong in talking to the Russians. “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.”

In contrast to his conversation with Priebus where he established firm boundaries, Comey did not tell the president that this request was out of line. Instead, he “replied by saying, 'I agree he is a good guy,' but said no more.”

As Comey left, the conversation turned to leaks. Comey said “something about the value of putting a head on a pike as a message. He [Trump] replied by saying it may involve putting reporters in jail. 'They spend a couple of days in jail, make a new friend and they are ready to talk.'” Comey says he laughed at the joke as he walked out.

The fifth memo

The fifth memo relates to a phone call from March 1. In the brief call, Comey noted that Trump told him that he “heard I'm doing great.”

The sixth memo

In the sixth memo, from March 30, Trump complains about the “cloud of this Russia business” making things “difficult.” The president asked how to “lift the cloud.”

Comey answered “that we were running it down as quickly as possible and that there would be great benefit, if we didn't find anything, to our Good Housekeeping seal of approval, but we had to do our work.”

“I reminded him that I told him that we weren't investigating him and that I had told the Congressional leadership the same thing,” Comey said. The president replied that “it would be great if that could get out and several times asked me to find a way to get that out.” Trump did say that it would be “good” to find out if “some satellite,” apparently meaning a campaign worker, had done something wrong, but that Trump “hadn't done anything and hoped I would find a way to get out that we weren't investigating him.”

Trump once again brought up McCabe and the money that Jill McCabe had received from Terry McAuliffe as a candidate. Comey confirmed to Trump that McCabe was “an honorable person.”

The seventh memo

The final memo, from April 11, details another phone call with the president. Trump again asked about “getting out that he personally is not under investigation.” Comey said that he had “passed the request to the Acting AG [Dana Boente due to Jeff Sessions' recusal] and had not heard back from him.” He told Trump that the way to handle the request was to “have the White House Counsel call the Acting Attorney General and make the request.” Trump said that he would do so and again brought up loyalty.

In a footnote, Comey says, “I perceived him to be slightly annoyed by my reply.”

The bottom line of the Comey memos is that President Trump didn't seem to want the Russia investigation ended, he just wanted people to know that he wasn't being investigated personally. As is frequently noted, Trump places a high value on personal loyalty and, when Comey did not respond to his request to “get out” that Trump wasn't being investigated, he interpreted that as disloyalty. Trump's firing of Comey, while not an obstruction of justice, was an error of judgment. Rather than making the Russia “cloud” go away, Trump ensured that it would become even larger and consume a large part of his presidency.

Originally published on the Resurgent

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