It is the most damning memo in James Comey’s dossier on Donald Trump: An account of an alleged conversation between Comey and Trump about then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
According to Comey, during a private meeting in the Oval Office on February 14, 2017, President Trump asked the former FBI director to drop an inquiry into Flynn about his discussions with the Russian ambassador shortly after the election. (Flynn had resigned amid media reports he possibly violated an arcane federal law.)
“He misled the Vice President but he didn’t do anything wrong in the call,” Comey claimed Trump said to him. “[Trump] said, ‘I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”
According to Russian collusion truthers, those alleged comments form the most convincing evidence that Team Trump not only conspired with the Russians and tried to cover it up, but that the president broke the law by asking his FBI director to halt an investigation into one of his top advisors.
The memo is cited numerous times in the second volume of the Mueller report to implicate the president for obstructing justice by interfering in the Russian investigation, although Comey’s memo is the only evidence of such an act. (Trump has disputed Comey’s description of the conversation.)
Ever since the memo was leaked to the news media by a Comey pal more than two years ago, the American public has been warned how that brief discussion between Comey and Trump represented an egregious presidential power play: Trump, the story goes, was squeezing his top G-Man to stop looking into his campaign for conspiring with the Kremlin because everyone associated with Trump, we were told, was guilty.
But that portrayal of events was never the truth. The conversation in February 2017 had nothing to do with the Russia investigation, as I’ve written before: Neither Trump nor Congress nor the general public knew at that time that James Comey’s FBI had been investigating Trump’s campaign, including Flynn, since July 2016.
And the new report by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) confirms as much.
Clearing Up the Timeline
In June 2017, the FBI concluded that the information in the Flynn memo was unclassified; it instead was marked “For Official Use Only.” (The team that analyzed Comey’s memos included disgraced partisan FBI agents Lisa Page and Peter Strzok. James Baker, the FBI’s former general counsel now under criminal investigation for leaking classified information, led the team looking into whether these memos were classified. No, I am not making this up.)
But if the generally accepted interpretation of the Flynn memo—that Trump asked Comey to drop the FBI’s investigation into Flynn for being in cahoots with the Russians—is true, it indeed contained what undoubtedly is classified information. According to federal guidelines, government material meets the classification threshold if it pertains to “foreign government information” and/or “intelligence activities (including covert action), intelligence sources or methods.”
Comey and the president would have been discussing a counterintelligence probe which by its very definition deals with threats from foreign governments. It would have pertained to information derived from an intercepted phone call with an agent of a foreign power. It would have disclosed law enforcement activity to uncover how a global foe disrupted a U.S. presidential election with the aid of traitorous American citizens.
But here is why the FBI didn’t mark the Flynn memo as classified: Trump wasn’t talking about the Russia investigation—and the corrupt chiefs at the FBI who analyzed the Flynn memo knew it.
The president didn’t find out until March 2017, after Comey publicly informed the House Intelligence Committee that he had been investigating Trump-Russia election collusion for eight months and, in violation of congressional protocol, withheld that news from congressional leaders.
So, when Comey met with Trump in February 2017 and Trump allegedly asked the FBI director to let the Flynn “thing” go, he was referring to the bogus inquiry into whether Flynn had violated the Logan Act, a centuries-old and never-used statute. Partisan Obama holdovers in the Justice Department concocted the Logan Act accusation against Flynn, ridiculously warning White House lawyers that the three-star general could be subject to Russian blackmail.
Further, in late January 2017, Justice Department officials refused to confirm to the White House that Flynn was under “any type of investigation.”
In fact, Comey himself admitted that the discussion about Flynn wasn’t related to the FBI’s Russia investigation.
“I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December,” Comey said in his June 2017 statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee. “I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign.”
Pushing the False Narrative
But that hasn’t stopped Comey, the media, congressional Democrats and the special counsel’s office from publicly suggesting otherwise. Comey leaked details from the Flynn memo through a friend to the New York Times in order to prompt the appointment of a special counsel, he told Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) in his testimony after he was fired.
The resulting article, however, did not report that Trump asked Comey to drop an FBI inquiry into Flynn’s false statements. The Times’ story published May 16, “Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End the Flynn Investigation,” rocked the political world. Reporter Michael Schmidt wrote that “the documentation of Trump’s request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Trump’s associates and Russia.”
News outlets piled on the bogus storyline: “[Comey] should come back to the Congress and share with us what he knows in terms of the president’s conversations with him on any of the Russian investigations,” Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told the Washington Post.
The next day, Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to investigate so-called collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians to influence the 2016 election.
Comey and other Trump foes continued to stoke the falsehood that Trump attempted to thwart the FBI’s investigation into Russian election activities. Comey upped the ante in a 2018 interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos to promote his new book. “He’s asking me to drop a criminal investigation into [Flynn],” Comey said of the February 2017 Oval Office meeting. “I took it as a direction. I took the expression of ‘hope’ as ‘this is something I want you to do.’”
Mueller, too, pushed that narrative in his final report. “Evidence does establish that the President connected the Flynn investigation to the FBI’s broader Russia investigation and that he believed . . . that terminating Flynn would end “the whole Russia thing,” Mueller (or someone) wrote on page 232 of the special counsel report’s second volume.
The presidential skullduggery allegedly exposed by the Flynn memo is just one more myth that has been peddled by anti-Trump partisans to bolster a fabricated storyline that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to defeat Hillary Clinton. The media will ignore the obvious truth about the memo—but just like every other example of media malpractice related to this scandal, no mea culpas will be offered. Democrats will repeat the falsehood on the campaign trail next year with no pushback from reporters. Republicans can try to push back but it’s probably too late; the public has already been told what to believe.
Which is exactly how James Comey and his partisan enablers intended it.
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