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Trump Asked Comey To Shut Down Flynn Investigation, Reports Say

May 16, 2017
Originally published on May 16, 2017 8:59 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's been another day of damage control at the White House. The Trump administration was already on the defensive over reports that the president revealed classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador at a White House meeting last week. And now another bombshell - associates of former FBI Director James Comey tell NPR the president asked Comey to shut down the federal investigation of Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. The White House denies that account.

NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now from the White House. And, Scott, this request from the president apparently came back in February. What can you tell us about it?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Ari, this story was initially broken by The New York Times, and important details have now been confirmed by NPR's own Carrie Johnson. Comey and Trump met in the Oval Office just one day after Michael Flynn, the president's former national security adviser, was fired. Comey documented that meeting in a memo, as is his practice. He also discussed it with a small number of colleagues at the FBI. Now, two Comey associates tell NPR Trump, in their meeting, asked Comey to make the investigation of Michael Flynn go away. This was described as an ask, not a command, but Comey was concerned about it. The White House is disputing this account. They say the president never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end an investigation.

SHAPIRO: If the president did ask the FBI director to stop an investigation into a former associate of the president, would that be obstruction of justice?

HORSLEY: Well, that, of course, is the big question. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House leader, said tonight if this story is true, at a minimum it would be an abuse of executive power. We've also heard from the top Republican on the House oversight committee who says he needs to see that Comey memo if it exists. And he said his subpoena pen is ready.

SHAPIRO: Well, now, this is the second story in as many days that the White House is trying to rebut. They were already under fire for damaging reports that Trump revealed classified information to the Russians. Describe how the White House has been pushing back against that.

HORSLEY: Right. Those reports first appeared in The Washington Post, saying that in his meeting last week with the Russian foreign minister, Trump revealed classified information that was so sensitive, it had not been widely shared, even within the U.S. government. Now, the president's new national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, disputes that. He insists the president did nothing wrong.

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H R MCMASTER: It is wholly appropriate for the president to share whatever information he thinks is necessary to advance the security of the American people.

HORSLEY: But after that meeting, the president's own counterterrorism adviser was reportedly concerned enough he alerted U.S. intelligence agencies about what the president had said.

SHAPIRO: Explain why it would be concerning that the president would disclose information like that to the Russians.

HORSLEY: The worry is that in sharing the information, Trump might have compromised future intelligence-gathering operations. Now, White House officials have been very carefully wording their denial, saying the president didn't tell the Russians exactly how the information was obtained, what the intelligence community refers to as sources and methods. In fact, McMasters said today Trump couldn't have disclosed that.

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MCMASTER: The president wasn't even aware, you know, of where this information came from. He wasn't briefed on the source or method of the information either.

HORSLEY: But the concern is that even if Trump himself didn't know, the information he shared with the Russians was specific enough they could have figured it out.

SHAPIRO: These cascading crises must be taking a toll on the agenda that the president is trying to pursue.

HORSLEY: No question. White House staffers, even the president himself, were visibly fatigued today. There's also some fatigue setting in on Capitol Hill. We heard today from the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who says Republicans are not concerned with the president's handling of classified information. But even McConnell conceded in an interview with Bloomberg television he would much rather be talking about tax cuts and repealing Obamacare.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House on a lot of things.

HORSLEY: It's not likely we're going to see that, though, because the president's about to set off on an international odyssey that begins in the Middle East.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Scott Horsley joining us once again from the White House. Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.