Trump aides push back
WASHINGTON — The White House disputed a report Tuesday that U.S. President Donald Trump asked former FBI director James Comey to shut down an investigation into ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn.
The New York Times reported that Trump made the request during a February Oval Office meeting. The newspaper cited a memo Comey wrote shortly after the conversation.
Flynn resigned the day before the Feb. 14 meeting, after it was revealed he apparently had lied about the nature of his contacts with Russia’s ambassador.
The Times said Trump told Comey, “I hope you can let this go.”
The White House denied the report.
“While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn,” the White House said in a statement.
Trump abruptly fired Comey last week, saying he did so based on his very public handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
According to the Times, Comey wrote in the memo that Trump told him Flynn had done nothing wrong. But Comey did not say anything to Trump about limiting the investigation, replying, “I agree he is a good guy.”
Meanwhile, pushing back against allegations of damaging intelligence disclosures, U.S. Trump’s national security adviser insisted Tuesday that Trump’s revelations to Russian officials about activities by Islamic State were “wholly appropriate” and amounted to a routine sharing of information.
H.R. McMaster added that none of the U.S. officials present for the president’s Oval Office meeting with the Russian foreign minister last week “felt in any way that that conversation was inappropriate.”
Trump himself claimed the authority to share “facts pertaining to terrorism” and airline safety with Russia, saying in a pair of tweets he has “an absolute right” as president to do so. Trump’s tweets did not say whether he revealed classified information about ISIS, as published reports have said and as a U.S. official said.
McMaster, in a White House briefing, said: “In the context of that discussion, what the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he is engaged.”
The White House has not expressly denied that classified information was disclosed in the Oval Office meeting between Trump and Russian diplomats last week. The Kremlin dismissed the reports as “complete nonsense.”
The news reverberated around the world as countries started second-guessing their own intelligence-sharing agreements with the U.S. A senior European intelligence official said his country might stop sharing information with the U.S. if it confirms that Trump shared classified details with Russian officials. Such sharing “could be a risk for our sources,” the official said. The official spoke only on condition that neither he nor his country be identified, because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans alike expressed concern about the president’s disclosures. Republican Sen. John McCain called the reports “deeply disturbing” and said they could affect the willingness of U.S. allies and partners to share intelligence with the U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the intelligence uproar a distraction from GOP priorities such as tax reform and replacing the health care law.
“I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House on a lot of things so that we can focus on our agenda,” he told Bloomberg Business.
Doug Andres, a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, said the speaker was looking for “a full explanation of the facts from the administration.”
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for Congress to have immediate access to a transcript of Trump’s meeting with the Russians, saying that if Trump refuses, Americans will doubt that their president is capable of safeguarding critical secrets.
Trump shared details about an Islamic State terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, a senior U.S official said. The classified information had been shared with the president by an ally, violating the confidentiality of an intelligence-sharing agreement with that country, the official said.
National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, speaking during a press briefing at the White House on Tuesday, denied that U.S. President Donald Trump had caused a “lapse in national security” following reports he disclosed classified information about Islamic State to Russian officials.