Sunday 21 October 2018

Trump talks of jailed journalists and Putin’s ‘hookers’ boast in Comey memo

The former FBI head also said the president asked him to end an investigation into Michael Flynn, the former White House national security adviser.

Former FBI director James Comey detailed a number of meetings with the US president (AP)
Former FBI director James Comey detailed a number of meetings with the US president (AP)

By Mary Clare Jalonick, Eric Tucker and Chad Day

US president Donald Trump told former FBI director James Comey that he had serious concerns about the judgment of a top adviser, asked about the possibility of jailing journalists and described a boast from Vladimir Putin about Russian prostitutes, according to Mr Comey’s notes.

The 15 pages of documents contain new details about a series of interactions with Mr Trump that Mr Comey found so unnerving that he chose to document them in writing.

Those seven encounters in the weeks and months before Mr Comey was sacked in May 2017 include a Trump Tower discussion about allegations involving Mr Trump and prostitutes in Moscow; a White House dinner at which Mr Comey said Mr Trump asked him for his loyalty; and a private Oval Office discussion where the ex-FBI head said the president asked him to end an investigation into Michael Flynn, the former White House national security adviser.

The documents had been eagerly anticipated since their existence was first revealed last year, especially since Mr Comey’s interactions with Mr Trump are a critical part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether the president sought to obstruct justice.

Late on Thursday night, Mr Trump tweeted that the memos “show clearly that there was NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION”.

The president also accused Mr Comey of leaking classified information. The memos obtained by the Associated Press were unclassified, though some portions were blacked out as classified.

Details from Mr Comey’s memos reported in news stories last year appear to come from the unclassified portions.

In explaining the purpose of creating the memos, which have been provided to Mr Mueller, Mr Comey has said he “knew there might come a day when I would need a record of what had happened” to defend not only himself but the FBI as well.

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Copies of the memos written by James Comey (Susan Walsh/AP)

The memos cover the first three months of the Trump administration, a period of upheaval marked by staff turnover, a cascade of damaging headlines and revelations of an FBI investigation into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The documents reflect Mr Trump’s uneasiness about that investigation, though not always in ways that Mr Comey seemed to anticipate.

In a February 2017 conversation, for instance, Mr Trump told Mr Comey how Vladimir Putin told him, “we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world” even as the president adamantly, and repeatedly, distanced himself from a salacious allegation concerning him and prostitutes in Moscow, according to one memo.

In another memo, Mr Comey recounts how Mr Trump at a private White House dinner pointed his fingers at his head and complained that Mr Flynn, his embattled national security adviser, “has serious judgment issues”. The president blamed Mr Flynn for failing to alert him promptly to a congratulatory call from a world leader, causing a delay for Mr Trump in returning a message to an official whose name is redacted in the documents.

By that point, the FBI had already interviewed Mr Flynn about his contacts with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, and the Justice Department had already warned White House officials that they were concerned Mr Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail.

Mr Flynn was fired on February 13 2017, after White House officials said he had misled them about his Russian contacts during the transition period by saying that he had not discussed sanctions.

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Mr Trump told the former FBI chief that one salacious allegation concerning an incident at a Moscow hotel was 'nonsense' (AP)

The memos also show Trump’s continued distress at a dossier of allegations – compiled by an ex-British spy whose work was funded by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign – examining potential ties between him and his aides and the Kremlin. Mr Comey writes how Mr Trump repeatedly denied to him having been involved in an encounter with Russian prostitutes in a Moscow hotel.

“The President said ‘the hookers thing’ is nonsense,” Mr Comey writes, noting that Mr Trump then related the conversation with Mr Putin about the “most beautiful hookers”. Mr Comey said Mr Trump did not say when Mr Putin had made the comment.

The documents also include the president’s musings about pursuing leakers and imprisoning journalists. They also provide insight into Mr Comey’s personal and professional opinions. He judges the administration’s travel ban to be legally valid, and he takes a swipe at former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, calling her predecessor, Eric Holder, “smarter and more sophisticated and smoother”.

The memos were provided to Congress as House Republicans escalated criticism of the US Justice Department, threatening to subpoena the documents and questioning officials.

Mr Comey is on a publicity tour to promote his new book, A Higher Loyalty. He revealed last year that he had written the memos after conversations with Mr Trump.

Press Association

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