Jared Kushner subject of FBI Russia investigation: reports

Donald Trump’s son-in-law is reportedly being investigated for meetings with the Russian ambassador and a sanctioned bank. He failed to disclose the meetings when applying for White House security clearance.

Washington Jared Kushner (Getty Images/AFP/N. Kamm)

US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, US news outlets reported Thursday.

Meetings between Kushner and Russian officials in December have come under scrutiny as part of an investigation into potential Russian meddling in the US election, newspaper “The Washington Post”and broadcaster NBC reported.

Kushner, a key White House adviser who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, reportedly met late last year with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Russian banker Sergey Gorkov.

“The Washington Post” cited anonymous “people familiar with the investigation,” who said the FBI investigation did not mean Kushner was suspected of a crime.

Gorkov, is chairman of VneshEconomBank, a state bank under US sanctions since July 2014.

Kushner intially failed to declare the meetings in forms required to obtain security clearance to serve in the White House. His lawyer later said it was a mistake, telling the FBI that he would amend the forms.

“Mr Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings,” Jamie Gorelick, one of his attorneys, said in a statement.

“He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.”

Kushner is the only current White House official known to be considered a key figure in the FBI probe, which is targeting other members of Trump’s campaign team.

Joe Lieberman out of leadership run

Joe Lieberman, a former US Senator and vice presidential candidate, withdrew from consideration as the next director of the FBI on Thursday due to a potential conflict of interest.

Lieberman currently works at a New York City law firm led by Marc Kasowitz, whom Trump hired to represent him against collusion investigations by the Justice Department and Congress, which are being conducted concurrently with that of the FBI. The law firm, Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, has represented Trump on many occasions over previous years.

Former US Sen. Joseph Lieberman departs the White House after meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump (Getty Images/W. McNamee)Joe Lieberman, a favorite to head the FBI, has removed himself from the running

“With your selection of Marc Kasowitz to represent you in the various investigations that have begun, I do believe it would be best to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest,” Lieberman wrote in a letter to Trump on Wednesday, which was made public on Thursday.

Lieberman was considered a top candidate to become FBI director. Trump said last Thursday that he was “very close” to selecting a new director. The White House did not release an immediate comment on Lieberman’s withdrawal.

Trump fired previous FBI director James Comey on May 9. In his role, Comey led the FBI’s campaign collusion probe. Trump and Russia have both denied the accusations.

Lieberman served as a Senator from Connecticut from 1989 until he retired in 2013. He was the Democratic vice presidential candidate during the 2000 US presidential election, but later left the Democratic party to serve as an independent.

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Trump: ‘no collusion’ with Russia

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Trump’s woes at home mount as he travels abroad

As President Donald Trump arrived in Saudi Arabia for his first foreign tour, US media reports have kept the focus on his White House and relations to Russia. Senators say fired FBI head Comey will testify in Congress.

Donald Trump, Melania Trump (picture alliance/AP Photo/E.Vucci)

The New York Times has reported that President Trump told Russian officials that his firing of former FBI Director James Comey had eased “great pressure” Trump faced.

The newspaper cited a document detailing the White House meeting Trump held with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russia’s ambassador to Washington in the Oval Office the day after he fired Comey.

“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump said on May 10, according to the paper. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

The New York Times cited an unnamed US official as its source for receiving the comments, which had been taken down in notes summarizing the meeting.

Other news reports have alleged Trump had previously asked Comey to stop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. On Thursday, the Justice Department said a special counsel had been appointed to look into allegations of Russian interference in last year’s election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign.

USA Richard Burr Senator (Getty Images/G. Demczuk)Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Burr

Comey has agreed to testify before the Senate intelligence committee, although a date has not yet been set, according to the committee’s chairman, Senator Richard Burr.

Burr said on Friday the former FBI director would testify in an open setting before the committee which wanted to know from Comey about his role in the assessment Russia interfered in last year’s election and his response to questions that have arisen since his dismissal.

White House response

In response to the latest reports on Friday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer again rejected the allegations and said, “A thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity.”

Spicer said of the former FBI director: “by grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia.”

USA Donald Trump und James Comey (Getty Images/A. Harrer)President Trump with former FBI Director James Comey in January

A person of interest

In a separate news report on Friday, the Washington Post claimed that a senior White House adviser was a person of significant interest in the investigation into possible ties between Trump’s election campaign and Russia.

The Post said the source of its information would not further identify the official, who was described as being a person close to Trump. The report claimed the investigation appeared to be entering a more open and active phase, with investigators conducting interviews and using a grand jury to issue subpoenas.

The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson all have acknowledged contacts with Russian officials.

Capitol reaction

House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in response to the reports “every day the president gives us more reason to believe that he does not respect the office that he holds.” She expressed optimism ahead of 2018 midterm elections, which could return Democrats back to control of the House.

Elijah Cummings, the senior Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said the panel should request White House documents related to the May 10 meeting and subpoena them if necessary. Cummings called Trump’s reported comment “astonishing and extremely troubling.”

Trump himself left Washington on Friday for his first international trip, beginning in Saudi Arabia. Air Force One took off with the president, first lady Melania Trump, his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as well as senior advisers and journalists. The group will then travel to Israel, the Vatican, Brussels and Sicily.

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Rosenstein on Comey memo: ‘I wrote it. I believe it. I stand by it.’

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein firmly stood by the memo he wrote that outlined James Comey’s offenses – and later was cited by the White House to support President Trump’s decision to fire the FBI director – during briefings with Capitol Hill lawmakers, according to remarks obtained by Fox News.

“I wrote it. I believe it. I stand by it,” he said, according to the opening statement provided by senior Justice Department officials. He maintained that Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe was “wrong and unfair.”

The statement was first delivered to Senate lawmakers on Thursday and to House lawmakers during a similar briefing on Friday.

Democratic lawmakers have claimed ever since Comey’s firing that Rosenstein’s memo was used as a mere pretext to can the director. Senators also said after the opening briefing that Rosenstein revealed he knew Comey was going to be removed before penning the Comey memo. This appeared to challenge initial White House statements citing that memo as rationale for the firing – though Trump has acknowledged he planned to fire Comey regardless of any recommendation.

But Rosenstein’s full statement provides a robust defense of his own actions, and a more complex and nuanced timeline leading up to Comey’s ouster.

He reiterated his judgments from the May 9 memo, saying Comey mishandled the Clinton email investigation. Rosenstein said Comey “usurped” the authority of the Justice Department, first with his July 2016 press conference outlining Clinton’s alleged offenses and recommending no charges, and second with his October call to notify Congress the probe was being reopened.

Rosenstein said he also discussed “the need for new leadership at the FBI” with Jeff Sessions – then a senator, now the attorney general – last winter.

“Among the concerns that I recall were to restore the credibility of the FBI, respect the established authority of the Department of Justice, limit public statements and eliminate leaks,” he said.

He said he learned on May 8 that Trump intended to remove Comey and “sought my advice and input.”

He said in the statement, “Notwithstanding my personal affection for Director Comey, I thought it was appropriate to seek a new leader.” Rosenstein said he then wrote the memo summarizing his “longstanding concerns” with Comey.

“I chose the issues to include in my memorandum,” he said, adding it was reviewed by a senior career attorney.

The statement challenges theories that Rosenstein was somehow put up to writing the memo to justify Trump’s decision. At the same time, the timeline he provided makes clear that Rosenstein did not initiate the process in the final phase – as senators said after Thursday’s briefing.

Some lawmakers expressed concern after Friday’s briefing that the session caused more confusion.

Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., complained that while Rosenstein made bold statements on the memo, he refused to take questions on it. But lawmakers generally have voiced confidence in Rosenstein’s newly appointed special counsel to lead the Russia meddling investigation, Robert Mueller.

“Mueller’s a pro,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said Friday.

Some Democrats have alleged that Trump fired Comey in order to blunt the Russia probe. Allegations also surfaced this week that Trump pressured Comey to end the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The president has defended the firing of Comey as justified and denied pressuring him to end the Flynn probe. But lawmakers indicated after the Rosenstein briefings that the special counsel-led probe will look at all these factors.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said the investigation will include questions regarding possible “misconduct” or “interference.” He said Rosenstein made clear that Mueller would have the freedom take the probe wherever he needs.

“There were questions well outside the Russian scope in there,” Issa said.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said Mueller would have “complete discretion to take the investigation” where it needs to go.

On Thursday, Trump said “there was no collusion between, certainly, myself and my campaign – but I can only speak for myself – and the Russians – zero.”

Asked if he pressed Comey to drop the Flynn investigation, Trump said, “No, no. Next question.”

Trump’s agenda at risk after series of controversies

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said Tuesday that despite all the controversies surrounding Donald Trump’s presidency, the House still has to “pass meaningful legislation and get it to the president’s desk.”

Chaffetz, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman, told NBC News that the government is “always full of crisis.”

Trump set forth an ambitious agenda from taking on the country’s health-care system and tax code, but his administration has been ensnared in a series of controversies.

“I am worried, concerned, that continual political drama will drain the energy away from real accomplishments,” Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan said that it is “appropriate” for the House Oversight Committee to request the memo that was reportedly written by James Comey, the ousted FBI chief, and claimed that President Trump once asked him to end the probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The White House sharply disputed the report, as Democrats seized on it as potential proof of “obstruction” of justice.

According to The New York Times the memo quoted Trump as saying he hoped Comey could “let this go” with regard to Flynn.

The Times said Comey wrote the memo shortly after an Oval Office meeting on Feb. 14, the day after Flynn resigned from the Trump administration. The paper acknowledged it had not seen a copy of the memo, but said a Comey associate read parts of it to a reporter over the phone.

The Senate has no legislation on its agenda this week — business is instead limited to three low-profile nominations. The House — fresh off an 11-day recess — is devoting the week to mostly symbolic, feel-good legislation designed to show support for law enforcement. Another 11-day recess, for Memorial Day this time, is just around the corner.

Separately, a small group of Senate Republicans is meeting in hopes of finding a way forward on keeping Trump’s promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. But that effort appears likely to take several weeks — with no guarantee of success.

“It’s hard to make things happen here, right? It’s really hard. I mean you’ve got all kinds of forces working against you,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. “And so unless everybody’s aligned, everybody, throughout the White House and the Cabinet, it’s almost impossible. I think they’re all very aware of that and hopefully they’re going to move to address that.”

In the meantime, must-do legislation on the military, children’s health and a full slate of spending bills are all slipping behind schedule. Trump’s promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is dead in the water after being rejected during negotiations on a catchall spending bill — the only major bipartisan legislation to advance this year — and his promised $1 trillion infrastructure bill is still on the drawing board.

Trump’s tax plan is simply a set of talking points and for procedural reasons is on hold until health care is completed.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen an administration that was so lacking is substantive proposals this late in the beginning of their term,” said No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland. “The tax bill is a one-page minimal suggestion of what might be considered. There is no jobs bill. There is no infrastructure bill.”

Work on a congressional budget measure — which is the linchpin to follow-up legislation to cut tax rates — is months behind schedule. The House and Senate Appropriations panels, typically a swarm of activity at this time of the year, seem stumped as they await marching orders.

Trump’s budget finally arrives next week, promising a balanced federal ledger within 10 years. But the Trump budget could complicate matters more, in large part because it calls for domestic cuts that lawmakers have no interest in. Trump doesn’t appear very interested in the budget — its release has been scheduled for when he’s out of the country — and its promise of balance rests on rosy assumptions of economic growth and a sweeping round of unrealistic cuts to programs like Medicaid.

The GOP-controlled Congress has had just a handful of legislative successes since it convened in January. The most significant bill, so far, was a long-delayed House health care measure that squeaked through earlier this month. The House bill polls poorly with voters, however, and faces a wholesale rewrite in the Senate.

So far, just a single piece of major legislation has advanced that required the votes of Democrats — a catchall $1.1 trillion spending bill opposed by more than 100 House Republicans. Beyond that, many of the bills Trump has signed into law were fast-track measures to rescind regulations issued by former President Barack Obama last year. The clock ran out on further repeals and this week, the biggest Senate vote is on confirming Iowa GOP Gov. Terry Branstad as ambassador to China.

“Well, we have nominations and we’ve repealed billions of dollars of regulations,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. “Hopefully we’ll see some other action come to the floor.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Congressional Dems making early calls for Trump’s impeachment

Brooke Singman

That didn’t take long.

A small group of President Trump’s most outspoken critics has seized on the James Comey controversy to make a — very — early push for impeachment.

The latest call came from Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, who released a statement suggesting Comey’s ouster from atop the FBI was an obstruction of the investigation “of the president’s campaign ties to Russian influence in his 2016 presidential election.” He said Trump has committed acts that “amount to intimidation and obstruction.”

“Our mantra should be I.T.N—Impeach Trump Now,” Green wrote in an email, which included a line in red pushing those who received the email to “forward this email to others who may be interested.”

The White House has defended the decision to fire Comey. The president’s team last week cited a DOJ memo castigating his handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe, though Trump himself has since said he would have fired Comey regardless of any recommendation.

Most Democrats are fighting back by calling for a special prosecutor to probe Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign, worried Comey’s firing was meant to blunt that investigation.

But a handful of Democrats want to go the distance, and are openly using the “I” word.

Green joined other Democratic lawmakers like Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who has been discussing impeachment for months. Waters took to Twitter in April saying that she would “fight every day until he’s impeached.”

She later denied calling for impeachment, but on Thursday renewed her push during an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes.

“I’ve said all along that he will lead us to impeachment, and he’s doing just that,” Waters said on MSNBC. “We’re fiddling while Rome is burning. This president needs to be impeached.”

Waters has received her fair share of impeachment backlash from Trump supporters. Most recently, Waters was greeted by pro-Trump protesters before a town hall on Saturday, with some holding signs calling for her impeachment.

Others Democratic lawmakers who have brought up the topic of impeachment include Reps. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., who told a local news station last week that Democrats were “actually pretty close to considering impeachment,” and Mark Pocan, D-Wis., who said on local radio that if there was an “impeachment clock,” Comey’s ouster would have moved it an “hour closer.”

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., also joined the discussion, tweeting last week that “Impeachment will happen if a handful of Republicans in Congress join Dems to put country above party. Or in 2019 after Dems win the House.”

But one former Democratic lawmaker told Fox News that even suggesting impeachment is “dangerous” for the American people.

Dennis Kucinich, former Ohio congressman and a Fox News contributor, told Fox News on Tuesday that there was a “danger in engaging in compulsive opposition.”

Kucinich, who called for the impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney over the decision to go to war in Iraq, told Fox News that this is only an option “after exhausting a number of other options.”

“It is destructive to America to proceed with an impeachment at this stage of the presidency,” Kucinich said. “This is not the first thing you reach for, because when the first big move a party makes is towards impeachment, it’s very difficult for the American people to conclude that it is anything but a partisan issue.”

In order to impeach the president of the United States, the House of Representatives must have the support of the majority of members. At this point, no Republicans have voiced support, or even made the suggestion to begin the impeachment process.

While Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, has said she is doing her “homework” on the issue, she also took a shot at the vice president suggesting he wouldn’t be much better.

“I will just say I understand the calls for impeachment, but what I am being cautious about and what I give you food for thought about is that if President Trump is impeached, the problems don’t go away, because then you have a Vice President Pence who becomes President Pence,” Gabbard said at a town hall last month.

Kucinich told Fox News that while he is aware of the extreme opposition to President Trump’s policies, Democrats should focus on their ability to impact policy, which could be “attractive” to Americans in 2018.

“It’s far better to offer alternatives to the policies of this president,” Kucinich said. “Otherwise, this is a grim partisan effort which inevitably will go nowhere.”

In the wake of a New York Times report on Tuesday evening suggesting that Mr. Trump asked Comey to end the probe into former National Security Advisor Gen. Michael Flynn, former Republican Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., jumped on the bandwaggon suggesting the Trump family may not be in Washington for long.

Jolly tweeted: “Hope that private school tuition in Maryland this Fall for the POTUS family is refundable.”

 

Brooke Singman is a Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @brookefoxnews.

Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation

Photo

James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing this month.CreditGabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — 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 documentation of Mr. Trump’s request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia. Late Tuesday, Representative Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, demanded that the F.B.I. turn over all “memoranda, notes, summaries and recordings” of discussions between Mr. Trump and Mr. Comey.

Continue reading the main story

Such documents, Mr. Chaffetz wrote, would “raise questions as to whether the president attempted to influence or impede” the F.B.I.

Mr. Comey wrote the memo detailing his conversation with the president immediately after the meeting, which took place the day after Mr. Flynn resigned, according to two people who read the memo. It was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation. An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.

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A Times Exclusive: Trump, Comey and the Russia Investigation

Michael S. Schmidt, a New York Times reporter, explains new revelations from a memo written by James B. Comey, the fired F.B.I. director. The memo showed that President Trump may have tried to halt the agency’s investigation into Michael T. Flynn.

By A.J. CHAVAR on Publish DateMay 16, 2017. . Watch in Times Video »

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 it to a Times reporter.

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

What Is Obstruction of Justice? An Often-Murky Crime, Explained

A look at what qualifies as obstructing justice, and whether the accusations against President Trump could fit in that definition.

Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey that Mr. Flynn had done nothing wrong, according to the memo.

Mr. Comey did not say anything to Mr. Trump about curtailing the investigation, replying only: “I agree he is a good guy.”

Continue reading the main story

In a statement, the White House denied the version of events in the memo.

“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.”

GRAPHIC

The Events That Led to Comey’s Firing, and How the White House’s Story Changed

New disclosures on Tuesday allege that in February, President Trump asked James B. Comey, then the F.B.I. director, to shut down an investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.

OPEN GRAPHIC

Mr. Chaffetz’s letter, sent to the acting F.B.I. director, Andrew G. McCabe, set a May 24 deadline for the internal documents to be delivered to the House committee. The congressman, a Republican, was criticized in recent months for showing little of the appetite he demonstrated in pursuing Hillary Clinton to pursue investigations into Mr. Trump’s associates.

But since announcing in April that he will not seek re-election in 2018, Mr. Chaffetz has shown more interest in the Russia investigation, and held out the potential for a subpoena on Tuesday, a notably aggressive move as most Republicans have tried to stay out of the fray.

Document: Representative Jason Chaffetz’s Letter to the F.B.I.

In testimony to the Senate last week, Mr. McCabe said, “There has been no effort to impede our investigation to date.” Mr. McCabe was referring to the broad investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. The investigation into Mr. Flynn is separate.

A spokesman for the F.B.I. declined to comment.

Mr. Comey created similar memos — including some that are classified — about every phone call and meeting he had with the president, the two people said. It is unclear whether Mr. Comey told the Justice Department about the conversation or his memos.

THE DAY’S TOP POLITICAL NEWS

Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey last week. Trump administration officials have provided multiple, conflicting accounts of the reasoning behind Mr. Comey’s dismissal. Mr. Trump said in a television interview that one of the reasons was because he believed “this Russia thing” was a “made-up story.”

The Feb. 14 meeting took place just a day after Mr. Flynn was forced out of his job after it was revealed he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of phone conversations he had had with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Despite the conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Comey, the investigation of Mr. Flynn has proceeded. In Virginia, a federal grand jury has issued subpoenas in recent weeks for records related to Mr. Flynn. Part of the Flynn investigation is centered on his financial links to Russia and Turkey.

Mr. Comey had been in the Oval Office that day with other senior national security officials for a terrorism threat briefing. When the meeting ended, Mr. Trump told those present — including Mr. Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions — to leave the room except for Mr. Comey.

Five Contradictions in the White House’s Story About Comey’s Firing

The Trump administration has offered conflicting answers about how and why the F.B.I. director, James Comey, was fired.

Alone in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, saying that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.

Mr. Trump then turned the discussion to Mr. Flynn.

After writing up a memo that outlined the meeting, Mr. Comey shared it with senior F.B.I. officials. Mr. Comey and his aides perceived Mr. Trump’s comments as an effort to influence the investigation, but they decided that they would try to keep the conversation secret — even from the F.B.I. agents working on the Russia investigation — so the details of the conversation would not affect the investigation.

Mr. Comey was known among his closest advisers to document conversations that he believed would later be called into question, according to two former confidants, who said Mr. Comey was uncomfortable at times with his relationship with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Comey’s recollection has been bolstered in the past by F.B.I. notes. In 2007, he told Congress about a now-famous showdown with senior White House officials over the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. The White House disputed Mr. Comey’s account, but the F.B.I. director at the time, Robert S. Mueller III, kept notes that backed up Mr. Comey’s story.

The White House has repeatedly crossed lines that other administrations have been reluctant to cross when discussing politically charged criminal investigations. Mr. Trump has disparaged the continuing F.B.I. investigation as a hoax and called for an inquiry into his political rivals. His representatives have taken the unusual step of declaring no need for a special prosecutor to investigate the president’s associates.

The Oval Office meeting occurred a little over two weeks after Mr. Trump summoned Mr. Comey to the White House for a lengthy, one-on-one dinner at the residence. At that dinner, on Jan. 27, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Comey at least two times for a pledge of loyalty — which Mr. Comey declined, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.

In a Twitter post on Friday, Mr. Trump said that “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

5395COMMENTS

After the meeting, Mr. Comey’s associates did not believe there was any way to corroborate Mr. Trump’s statements. But Mr. Trump’s suggestion last week that he was keeping tapes has made them wonder whether there are tapes that back up Mr. Comey’s account.

The Jan. 27 dinner came a day after White House officials learned that Mr. Flynn had been interviewed by F.B.I. agents about his phone calls with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak. On Jan. 26, the acting attorney general, Sally Q. Yates, told the White House counsel about the interview, and said Mr. Flynn could be subject to blackmail by the Russians because they knew he had lied about the content of the calls.

Firestorm over Comey’s dismissal adds to Trump frustrations

 

Associated Press

By JULIE PACE and JONATHAN LEMIRE, Associated Press3 hrs ago
Liver transplant recipient left homeless after Colo. hailstorm
In this May 12, 2017, photo, President Donald Trump speaks to military mothers in the East Room of the White House during Mother's Day celebration. Four months into office, Trump has become distrustful of some of his White House staff, heavily reliant on a handful of family members and longtime aides, and furious that the White House’s attempts to quell the firestorm over the FBI and congressional Russia investigations only seem to add more fuel. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)© The Associated Press In this May 12, 2017, photo, President Donald Trump speaks to military mothers in the East Room of the White House during Mother’s Day celebration. Four months into office, Trump has become distrustful of some of his White House staff, heavily reliant on a handful of family members and longtime aides, and furious that the White House’s attempts to quell the firestorm over the FBI and congressional Russia investigations only seem to add more fuel. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)WASHINGTON (AP) — After four months in office, President Donald Trump has become distrustful of some of his White House staff, heavily reliant on a handful of family members and longtime aides, and furious that the White House’s attempts to quell the firestorm over the FBI and congressional Russia investigations only seem to add more fuel.

Trump’s frustrations came to a head this week with the firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing the probe into his campaign’s possible ties to Russia’s election meddling. Fearful that his own team would leak the decision, Trump kept key staff in the dark as he pondered the dramatic move.

The communications staff charged with explaining the decision to the American people had an hour’s notice. Chief strategist Steve Bannon learned on television, according to three White House officials, though a person close to Bannon disputed that characterization.

When the White House’s defense of the move failed to meet his ever-changing expectations, Trump tried to take over himself. But he wound up creating new headaches for the White House, including with an apparent threat to Comey.

“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump wrote on Twitter Friday morning.

For a White House accustomed to bouts of chaos, Trump’s handling of Comey’s firing could have serious and long-lasting implications. Already Trump’s decision appears to have emboldened the Senate intelligence committee investigating Russia’s election interference and the president’s associates, with lawmakers announcing a subpoena for former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Comey’s allies also quickly made clear they would defend him against attacks from Trump, including disputing the president’s assertion that Comey told Trump he was not personally under investigation.

Several people close to the president say his reliance on a small cadre of advisers as he mulled firing Comey reflects his broader distrust of many of his own staffers. He leans heavily on daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as Hope Hicks, his trusted campaign spokeswoman and Keith Schiller, his longtime bodyguard. Schiller was among those Trump consulted about Comey and was tapped by the president to deliver a letter informing the director of his firing.

Trump confidants say Bannon has been marginalized on major decisions, including Comey’s firing, after clashing with Kushner. And while Trump praised chief of staff Reince Priebus after the House passed a health care bill last week, associates say the president has continued to raise occasional questions about Priebus’ leadership in the West Wing. Still, Priebus was among the tight circle of staffers Trump consulted about Comey’s firing.

Trump spent most of the week out of sight, a marked change from a typically jam-packed schedule that often includes multiple on-camera events per day. Even when aides moved ahead on an executive order creating a voter fraud commission — a presidential pet project that some advisers thought they had successfully shelved — Trump signed the directive in private.

More than a lack of momentum on major policy goals, Trump is said to be seething over the flood of leaks pouring out of the White House and into news reports. He’s viewed even senior advisers suspiciously, including Bannon and Priebus, when stories about internal White House drama land in the press.

A dozen White House officials and others close to Trump detailed the president’s decision-making and his mood on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss private conversations and deliberations.

After Trump decided to fire Comey, he was told by aides that Democrats would likely react positively to the news, given the role many believe Comey played in Hillary Clinton’s defeat last year. When the opposite occurred, Trump grew incensed — both at Democrats and his own communications staff for not quickly lining up more Republicans to defend him on television.

Much of Trump’s ire has been focused on the communications team, all of whom were caught off guard by Comey’s ouster. He increasingly sees himself as the White House’s only effective spokesperson, according to multiple people who have spoken with him. By week’s end, he was musing about cutting back on the White House’s televised press briefings.

Two White House officials said some of Trump’s frustration centers on what he views as unfair coverage of his decisions and overly harsh criticism of press secretary Sean Spicer, as well as deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders, who led much of the response to Comey’s firing. Aides said Trump does not believe his team gave contradictory stories about his decision to fire Comey, despite the fact that the White House’s explanation changed dramatically over a 48-hour period.

The White House initially said Trump was compelled to fire Comey by a critical memo from the deputy attorney general on the director’s handling of last year’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email. Aides later said the president had been considering firing Comey for months, and Trump said he would have made the decision regardless of the Justice Department recommendation.

“The challenge they have is that the president sometimes moves so rapidly that they don’t get a team around that gets it organized,” said Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and Trump ally. “He’s a little bit like a quarterback that gets ahead of his offensive line.”

Trump is mulling expanding the communications team and has eyed hiring producers from Fox News, according to one White House official.

White House officials had hoped last week’s House vote would give the president a much-needed burst of momentum and infuse new energy into efforts to fully overhaul the “Obamacare” health law and pass a massive tax reform package. Aides were also eager for Trump’s first foreign trip, a high-stakes blitz through the Middle East and Europe.

But the blowback from Comey’s firing left the White House reeling once again. Trump’s visible anger and erratic tweets prompted a reporter to ask Spicer on Friday if the president was “out of control.”

“That’s, frankly, offensive,” Spicer said.

__

Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writers Julie Bykowicz, Jill Colvin and Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.

__

Follow Pace on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JPaceDC and Lemire at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire

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