If House Republicans thought they were helping President Donald Trump by forcing the release of James Comey’s memos, they might want to think again.
The documents written by the then-FBI director, detailing his interactions with Trump, present a contemporaneous and deeply unflattering view of a President throwing his weight around in his first days in the White House – that at the very least seems highly inappropriate.
Only special counsel Robert Mueller can decide whether the stunning accounts of conversations in which the President got the then-FBI director alone in the White House and leaned on him amount to obstruction of justice.
The Comey memos suggest Trump has a scattershot and self-obsessed mindset, brooding about his subordinates, leaks, his campaign and his inaugural crowd size and not appreciating or caring about protocol boundaries that separate the White House and the Justice Department.
Furthermore, the conversations with Comey soon after Trump moved into the White House paint a picture of a new President more concerned with own fortunes than the burden of his new responsibilities.
CNN obtained the documents, which offer a staggering insider account, after they were sent to Congress by the Justice Department on Thursday in response to requests from three GOP House committee chairmen on Capitol Hill.
Trump responded to the release of the memos on Twitter in an apparent attempt to direct conversation away from the embarrassing substance of the documents.
“So General Michael Flynn’s life can be totally destroyed while Shadey James Comey can Leak and Lie and make lots of money from a third rate book (that should never have been written). Is that really the way life in America is supposed to work? I don’t think so!” Trump tweeted Friday morning. Hours earlier, he insisted the memos “show clearly that there was NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION. Also, he leaked classified information. WOW! Will the Witch Hunt continue?”
’I am aghast’
It’s possible that the House committee chairmen wanted the memos released to undercut Comey’s current book tour and to weaken the Mueller probe.
If that was the case it has backfired.
“Honestly, I am aghast that they thought this was going to be helpful to the President and undermine Comey, therefore the FBI, therefore special counsel Mueller,” Jack Quinn, a former counsel to President Bill Clinton, said Thursday on CNN.
“I can’t get over the fact that they made this calculation. I am sure the President is not going to be sitting up tonight writing thank you letters to them,” he said.
If anything, the memos appeared to bolster the credibility of Comey – given their exhaustive detail. Comey will be a key witness in the question of whether Trump obstructed justice by firing him.
But it was also unclear whether they showed a clear intention on the part of the President to obstruct justice. Politically, they seem unlikely to shift entrenched perceptions of Trump among his supporters and critics.
“It doesn’t seem like there is very much new in there,” Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist, told CNN’s Don Lemon on Thursday night, also finding nothing likely to change the trajectory of the special counsel investigation.
The documents will also renew attention on the odd relationship between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
That’s because while noting Trump’s denial about notorious allegations that he watched prostitutes engage in lewd behavior in a Moscow hotel, they include a bizarre comment by the President about an undated conversation with Putin.
“The President said the ‘hookers thing’ is nonsense but that Putin had told him ‘we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world’ (He did not say when Putin had told him this),” Comey wrote.
Trump has vehemently denied the allegation about the prostitutes and it has not been publicly authenticated by US intelligence agencies or news organizations.
There will also be renewed debate about Trump’s own judgment in personnel matters since Comey writes that he confessed to serious reservations about his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who was fired shortly afterward.
Those questions could extend to former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, whose inquiry to Comey about Flynn showed an apparent disregard in the White House for the firewall between the FBI and the executive office of the president.
Comey writes that the then-chief of staff asked him if the FBI had a secret court surveillance order on Flynn.
The FBI director answered the question – but also rebuked Priebus, saying it was “the kind of question that had to be asked and answered through established channels.”