Pressure to Release Comey Memos May Have Backfired on G.O.P.


April 20, 2018

Supporters of President Trump protesting outside a Barnes & Noble in Manhattan where Mr. Comey appeared as part of his book tour. Taken together, the memos largely back up the stories that Mr. Comey has shared elsewhere. – Lucas Jackson/Reuters

WASHINGTON — For days, top Republicans in Congress demanded the release of James B. Comey’s memos about President Trump, threatening Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, with a subpoena if he failed to share the highly-anticipated documents written by the former F.B.I. director.

But if Mr. Trump and his allies believed that Mr. Rosenstein’s refusal would deliver a pretext to call for his firing, as Democrats asserted, his decision to quickly release all the memos late Thursday night foiled that plan. The memos leaked to reporters hours after being delivered to lawmakers in both parties.

And the seven memos, in which Mr. Comey methodically documented his interactions with the president in real time, did little to help Republicans undermine Mr. Comey’s credibility or expose contradictions with his best-selling, tell-all book. Taken together, the 15 pages of detailed notes largely back up the stories that Mr. Comey told in congressional testimony, in the pages of his memoir, “A Higher Loyalty,” and during numerous television and radio interviews.

“I’m not quite sure how this improved the strategic posture of those who want to dismantle the special counsel investigation,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland. “This is a tactic that has backfired. From what I’ve seen of the Comey memos, they bear out completely the authenticity of his reports and his own credibility.”

Word last spring that Mr. Comey had taken contemporaneous notes of his meetings with Mr. Trump jolted Washington, and for nearly a year, the existence of the still-secret memos cast a shadow over the capital, generating intense speculation about the private details that might be exposed if they were made public. Salacious talk of Russian prostitutes, a request to ease up on the investigation of the president’s national security adviser and a presidential demand for the loyalty of the F.B.I. director all made for bombshell revelations.

James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, has been promoting the release of his tell-all book, which includes descriptions of the memos released Thursday. – Lucas Jackson/Reuters

But by the time the actual memos appeared, the details were already known, and some Republicans suggested the real import of the memos was that they indicated that there was no obstruction of justice case.

“I don’t know that it was necessarily earth-shattering, the new information that we found,” said Representative Mark Meadows, a conservative Republican of North Carolina. “But if someone is trying to suggest an obstruction of justice case, I would use the memos as one of the exhibits to use in the defense. It didn’t sound like Director Comey was intimidated.”

Members of both parties said Friday that Mr. Comey’s notes mostly repeat his public testimony and are unlikely to drastically change the trajectory of Mr. Trump’s presidency or alter the investigations swirling around him.

The release of the memos showed that Mr. Comey’s recent public statements have barely strayed from the recollections that he put on paper during the months before he was fired by Mr. Trump last May. The memos document how the president sought loyalty from Mr. Comey; asked him to “let go” of the investigation into Michael T. Flynn, his national security adviser; and pressed Mr. Comey to publicly clear him in the Russia inquiry.

In addition, the memos provide more evidence of what Mr. Comey saw as the president’s obsession with the allegations of indecent behavior. Mr. Comey wrote in the memos — as he did in his book — that Mr. Trump repeatedly brought up a supposed encounter with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room in 2013.

Democrats said the memos helped establish that Mr. Comey was not a disgruntled employee who made up stories about the president.

“Thanks @HouseGOP for urging release of the Comey memos!” Representative Jackie Speier, Democrat of California, gleefully wrote on Twitter.

Some Republicans continued to assail Mr. Comey, casting doubt on his judgment and suggesting that he had been motivated by resentment over his firing.

In a statement about the memos, the three Republican committee chairmen who had pressed for their release wrote that Mr. Comey never explicitly said in his memos that the president was trying to interfere in the Russia investigation.

“While former Director Comey went to great lengths to set dining room scenes, discuss height requirements, describe the multiple times he felt complimented, and myriad other extraneous facts, he never once mentioned the most relevant fact of all, which was whether he felt obstructed in his investigation,” they wrote.

Mr. Trump wrote in a tweet that the memos “show clearly that there was NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION.”

Some of the president’s most ardent Republican supporters acknowledged that the previously unreported details in the memos were not likely to emerge as important evidence to counter the narrative that Mr. Comey is offering publicly during his weekslong book tour.

Mr. Meadows and other Republican lawmakers seized on the memos, which were lightly redacted by the Justice Department before they were released, as proof that Mr. Comey had leaked classified information when he gave copies of some to a friend, with permission to read them to a reporter from The New York Times.

The Justice Department’s inspector general is conducting a review of the handling of classified information contained in Mr. Comey’s memos, according to a person briefed on the investigation. The inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, is expected to dedicate a section of a larger report about the F.B.I.’s decision-making in 2016 to the matter of Mr. Comey’s documents.

Mr. Comey gave copies of at least two of his memos to Daniel C. Richman, a longtime associate outside the F.B.I. Some of the memos were later deemed to contain classified information. In one case, Mr. Comey had personally redacted such information before handing it to Mr. Richman, and in another, the F.B.I. deemed the material classified only after it was in Mr. Richman’s possession.

Mr. Comey has said he shared the memos with Mr. Richman under the assumption that they would be shared with the news media and to put pressure on the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to oversee the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation. The inspector general has questioned witnesses about the matter, and F.B.I. agents conducted a search of Mr. Richman’s New York office to ensure that the leak was contained.

The inspector general’s review was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

“This is a stain on James Comey’s judgment when it comes to law enforcement matters,” Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, said Friday afternoon on CNN. He said Mr. Comey’s decision to leak the memos to his friend “raises serious questions about his judgment and his integrity.”

Democrats said on Friday that Republicans had failed in their efforts to discredit Mr. Comey’s assertions about the president’s private behavior. They predicted that the memos would help investigators piece together a case against Mr. Trump and his associates.

“The simple fact is they unquestionably show pressure by the president to stymie or stop the investigation, and so they are more evidence of attempts to obstruct justice,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut.

Mr. Blumenthal accused Republicans of trying — with little success — to twist the meaning of the memos.

“They are pretty much raw history, which people can spin to serve their partisan purposes,” he said.

Representative Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican of Pennsylvania who has criticized efforts to undermine the Russia investigation, said both sides were misguided if they thought the release of the full memos would effect the fundamentals of the case.

“There might be some salacious details here,” Mr. Dent said, “but nothing is changing the overall narrative on the Mueller investigation.”

Courtesy/Source: NY Times