James Comey recorded a meeting he had with Donald Trump in February
At that meeting, Trump apparently asked Comey to stop investigating Michael Flynn
The latest chaos surrounding President Donald Trump and the Russia investigations left House Republicans searching for a way to seemingly address the controversy without undercutting the man who could help their agenda in the long term.
The answer, they found Tuesday evening, was demanding former FBI Director James Comey give up the goods.
“@GOPoversight is going to get the Comey memo, if it exists. I need to see it sooner rather than later. I have my subpoena pen ready,” House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz tweeted Tuesday night. A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan supported Chaffetz’ request.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Comey had written a memo describing a meeting he had with Trump, at which the President asked him to end the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. CNN has confirmed the details of that memo.
Chaffetz later sent a request to acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe demanding all memos, notes and other documents of Comey’s conversations with Trump by May 24.
House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers said that the White House needs to answer questions about what happened and that Comey needs to testify “as soon as possible.”
It was a rare bit of unity for Republicans with minority Democrats in the expanding Russia scandals. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the intelligence committee, and others said they want to see Comey’s notes and hear from him immediately.
But Democrats and Republicans split from there.
Republicans were largely unwilling to say comment on what it meant if Trump had, indeed, asked Comey to kill his investigation of Flynn. But Democrats had no problems offering up their assessment – it could be obstruction of justice, if true, they said.
One likely reason for the split: Demanding answers from Comey allows Republicans to address the issue without impugning Trump, who has still helped them immensely more than any Democrat in the White House would have. It also deals with their own increasing frustration with the White House.
Behind the scenes, rank and file Republicans, many of them returning after a one-week break, were exasperated Tuesday.
“I talked to many who are just fed up and want to move on,” said one House Republican member of his conversations with other House Republicans.
Even one of Trump’s earliest supporters, North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer, outlined his frustration with the White House – not necessarily about the reports themselves, but how they handle the response. Top White House aides last week insisted Comey’s firing was about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s recommendation, but Trump undercut them later by saying it was because of “this Russia thing.”
“The larger concern is what seems to be a lack of communication discipline coming out of the White House,” Cramer said. “I think some of that is driven by the desire to have an immediate response to everything. And you hate to have to clarify all the time. I’d prefer that they wait a couple of hours, half a day, and get everything right the first time so you don’t raise more suspicion.”
Ironically, some of Trump’s biggest defenders Tuesday evening were his biggest antagonists in the health care battle – The House Freedom Caucus members.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican in the House Freedom Caucus, dismissed the controversy, “It almost sounds like fake news, doesn’t it?”
But unlike previous Trump controversies, Republicans up and down the chain of command were unwilling to immediately dismiss the report. They want answers first.
CNN’s Manu Raju contributed to this report.