Congressional Republicans on Tuesday showed growing concern over the controversies enveloping the Trump administration, with a key House committee asking the FBI for records of communications between President Trump and the agency’s former director James B. Comey, following reports that the president sought to shut down a federal investigation into former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, requested the documentation be delivered by May 24 and said he would subpoena the information if necessary.
His request came in response to media reports disclosing the existence of a memo written by Comey, who Trump fired last week, alleging that Trump asked him to end the Flynn investigation during a meeting at the White House in February.
“@GOPoversight is going to get the Comey memo, if it exists,” Chaffetz wrote on Twitter. “I need to see it sooner rather than later. I have my subpoena pen ready.”
Chaffetz, in a letter to FBI acting director Andrew McCabe, cited a report from the New York Times stating that Comey’s memo “describes a conversation in which the President referenced the FBI investigation . . . and said to Comey, ‘I hope you can let this go.’ ” He asked the FBI to provide “all memoranda, notes, summaries and recordings” related to Comey’s communication with Trump.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) directed the Oversight Committee to track down the Comey memo.
“We need to have all the facts, and it is appropriate for the House Oversight Committee to request this memo,” Ryan spokeswoman Ashlee Strong said in a statement.
The pressure on congressional Republicans to step up their oversight of the Trump administration intensified this week when The Washington Post on Monday reported that the president shared classified information related to the Islamic State with Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting last week.
The White House on Tuesday sought to tamp down the controversy with national security adviser H.R. McMaster telling reporters that what the president shared with the Russian officials “was wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he’s engaged.”
But Democrats and a growing number of Republicans called on Trump to provide a transcript of the meeting to the congressional intelligence committees as a way to check the White House’s claim that what Trump disclosed was appropriate.
Trump last week suggested that he records his conversations while defending Comey’s firing — a controversy many lawmakers were still dealing with when the latest developments began to cascade this week.
“Memos, transcripts, tapes — our list keeps getting longer,” Mark R. Warner (Va.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters.
“I keep using ‘troubling,’ but troubling is an understatement,” he said.
Nearly 24 hours after news of Trump’s disclosure to the Russians first broke, none of the leaders of the Senate or House Intelligence committees had spoken to White House officials who were in the Oval Office and could say what happened.
“We’d like to understand what was said,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) told reporters Tuesday. When it comes to Trump’s ability to handle classified information, “that will either confirm our confidence or possibly shake our confidence,” he said.
“We owe the White House the chance to present us with the information, present us with the truth,” Warner said. “We also want to see if there are, again, these supposed transcripts [and] get a copy of them.”
White House aides have neither confirmed nor denied the possibility that Trump records his conversations.
The collision of the two stories escalated the sense of chaos that has permeated Capitol Hill since Trump was inaugurated and increased the sense of frustration with the president that emerged among some Republican lawmakers and aides in the past week.
Following news of Comey’s memo, Democrats railed against the president with charges that some had previously shied away from using, including obstruction of justice, an impeachable offense.
“If these reports are true, the President’s brazen attempt to shut down the FBI’s investigation of Michael Flynn is an assault on the rule of law that is fundamental to our democracy,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement.
Many Republicans remained silent or took a wait-and-see approach.
Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chair of the Republican Study Committee, said it was “disappointing” if Trump moved to curtail the Russia probe with “intentionality,” although he said it could havebeen just a “casual conversation.”
Asked whether Congress needs to see the Comey memo, he said, “Instinctively, that’s where we’re going to want to go.” But he stopped short of calling for subpoenas, saying that Congress needs to pursue a “unified response.”
“It’s been frustrating, no question,” he said of the recent revelations, adding that he wished the Republican agenda could be “moving forward.”
Above all, he was critical of Trump’s tone. “Reverence — we want to see more of that,” Walker said.
Frustration has been a theme in some private conversations among Republican lawmakers, according to one GOP senator who spoke on the condition of anonymity. They worry that their ambitious agenda is grinding to a halt because of Trump’s controversies.
Publicly — and even in large but private group settings — GOP senators have almost tried to pretend the problem isn’t there. Trump’s disclosure of classified information to Russia was not a focal point of a weekly lunch Tuesday, after which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gave terse answers to reporters’ questions about Trump.
“We’ve talked about health care more often. I hate to be flippant — we really have,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.).
At the same time, they say they want to learn more.
“I think everyone, Republicans and some — many — Democrats need to know more about exactly what transpired,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
Both lawmakers and aides within the GOP described feeling a sense of weariness as they stare down the latest Trump-related controversy.
“It’s just a very surreal environment where you have a president who is self-destructing,” said one Senate Republican aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly. Another GOP staffer described the situation as “constant chaos.”
There is a worry that questions about Trump’s credibility have diminished his ability to lead the party.
“It never helps. It never helps,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), repeating himself for emphasis.
McConnell declined to offer specific critiques of Trump when speaking with reporters midday Tuesday, saying only that it would be “helpful to have less drama emanating from the White House.”
Asked whether he had concerns about the president’s ability to properly handle classified information, McConnell paused, let out a short laugh and said simply, “No.”
“Are you starting to lose confidence in President Trump?” a reporter asked. “No,” McConnell said.
Across Capitol Hill, a varied coalition of Republicans began to coalesce around the demand that the White House brief lawmakers about Trump’s disclosure to the Russians. Its members included Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), whose Northern Virginia district went for Hillary Clinton in November by 10 percentage points, and Reps. Frank A. LoBiondo (R-N.J.) and Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), whose districts swung heavily for Trump.
Lawmakers’ requests will probably be complicated by the sensitivity of the information that Trump shared. One White House aide called for the problematic portion of Trump’s discussion to be stricken from internal memos and for the full transcript to be limited to a small circle of recipients — efforts to prevent sensitive details from being disseminated further or leaked.
Trump tried to explain away the situation in a series of tweets Tuesday morning, writing that he had the “absolute right” to share “facts pertaining to terrorism” with the Russian officials. Later, McMaster defended Trump’s conversations as “wholly appropriate” but declined to discuss whether the information shared by the president was classified.
Karoun Demirjian, Paul Kane, Ed O’Keefe, Jenna Portnoy and Kelsey Snell contributed to this report.