President Trump became irate at his then-national security adviser Michael Flynn, when he learned that Flynn had failed to tell him about a congratulatory phone call from Russian President Vladimir Putin after Trump’s inauguration, according to a senior administration official.
The president’s ire was compounded when Flynn scheduled a return call six days after Putin first called, the official said.
Trump’s vexation with Flynn was recounted in a newly public memo written by then-FBI Director James B. Comey — one of seven redacted memos provided to Congress on Thursday by the Justice Department and obtained by The Washington Post.
Comey wrote the memos in the immediate wake of private discussions with Trump, a step he said he took because he was troubled by the conversations, feared that the president might one day lie about them and that it could be evidence of a crime.
The Jan. 28, 2017, memo released Thursday had Putin’s name blacked out, but the head of state’s identity was confirmed by the administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.
By Comey’s retelling, Trump gave a “heated” reply to Flynn when informed of the scheduling of the return call to Putin. “Six days was not an appropriate period of time to return a call” from the leader of a country like Russia, Comey wrote. He said the president then pointed his fingers at his head and said of Flynn — “the guy has serious judgment issues.” The Associated Press first reported it was Putin’s name that was redacted in the memo.
The episode is yet the latest reflection of the regard with which Trump holds the Russian leader. Last month, disregarding a warning from his senior advisers, Trump congratulated Putin on his reelection, despite concerns about the openness of the electoral process. He also chose to ignore talking points from aides instructing him to condemn the recent poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain with a powerful nerve agent, a case that both the British and U.S. governments have blamed on Moscow.
The Comey memos have been given to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who was appointed last May, shortly after Trump fired Comey, to take over the FBI’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The investigation extends to an inquiry into whether Trump or any of his associates coordinated with Russian officials to influence the election. Another element of Mueller’s probe is whether Trump sought to obstruct the investigation, whether through his firing of Comey or other actions.
Senior GOP lawmakers pushed back hard against the memos, which they argued made clear the president “wanted allegations of collusion, coordination, and conspiracy between his campaign and Russia fully investigated.” The memos showed that Comey never wrote “that he felt obstructed or threatened,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).
The memos’ biggest revelations were made last year, shortly after Trump fired Comey, when they were first described in the New York Times and then in congressional testimony. According to one memo, the president asked his FBI director in February 2017 to end a probe into Flynn, who had misled the vice president and lied to the FBI about his discussions of sanctions with the Russian ambassador.
In his book released earlier this week, Comey said he shared one memo — about his February conversation regarding Flynn — with a friend, Columbia University law professor Daniel Richman, who relayed the contents to the Times.
Another person familiar with the case, however, said Comey eventually shared other memos with his lawyers, though he held back some information that he considered classified. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic.
Shortly after Comey was fired, an FBI review determined some of the information in two of his memos was classified, said a person familiar with the matter, prompting the FBI to retrieve those documents from two people with whom Comey had shared them. The information was marked confidential, the lowest category of classified information, another person said. The Justice Department’s inspector general has indicated to lawmakers that it will review the handling of the memos, according to people familiar with the matter.
The memo about the discussion of loyalty, which Comey described to Congress, provides new context about how Trump asked the question amid a discussion of FBI leaks and managing large government bureaucracies.
Comey said he told the president “I don’t do sneaky things, I don’t leak, I don’t do weasel moves. But I was not on anybody’s side politically and could not be counted on in that traditional political sense, which I said I thought was in the president’s best interest.”
The president asked “whether the FBI leaks,” and Comey responded that the bureau “leaks far less than people say. I predicted he, like all Presidents, would come to discover the entire government leaks like crazy and explained that it often comes from the first or second hop out from those actually working on the sensitive thing.”
“He replied that he needed loyalty and expected loyalty. I did not reply, or even nod or change my facial expression, which he noted because we came back to it later,” Comey wrote.