President Donald Trump told former FBI director James Comey that he had serious concerns about the judgment of his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, according to memos maintained by Mr Comey.
The 15 pages of documents, obtained by The Associated Press, contain new details about a series of interactions that Comey had with Mr Trump in the weeks before his May 2017 firing.
Those encounters include a White House dinner at which Mr Comey says Mr Trump asked him for his loyalty, and a meeting the following month in which he says the president asked him to end an investigation into Mr Flynn.
According to one memo, Mr Trump complained about Mr Flynn at a private January 2017 dinner with Mr Comey, saying “the guy has serious judgment issues”. He then blamed Mr Flynn for a delay in returning the congratulatory call of an international leader.
“I did not comment at any point during this topic and there was no mention or acknowledgement of any FBI interest in or contact with General Flynn,” Mr Comey wrote.
Mr Flynn was fired a month later after White House officials said he had misled about his Russian contacts during the transition period. In a separate memo, Mr Comey says Mr Trump cleared the Oval Office of other officials, encouraged him to let the investigation into Mr Flynn go and called him a good guy.
In a Senate hearing in June, Mr Comey told Congress, “I knew there might come a day when I would need a record of what had happened, not just to defend myself, but to defend the FBI and our integrity as an institution and the independence of our investigative function.”
The memos were provided to Congress earlier on Thursday as House Republicans escalated criticism of the department, threatening to subpoena the documents and questioning officials.
In a letter sent to three Republican House committee chairmen on Thursday evening, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote that the department was sending a classified version of the memos and an unclassified version. The department released Mr Boyd’s letter publicly but did not release the memos.
Justice officials had allowed some politicians to view the memos but had never provided copies to Congress. Mr Boyd wrote that the department had also provided the memos to several Senate committees.
Mr Trump claimed vindication after the release of the memos.
Mr Trump said the memos “show clearly that there was NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION.”
It’s not clear what in the memos led the president to reach the conclusion.
Mr Trump also accused Mr Comey of having leaked classified information, though the Justice Department said the memos it provided to Congress on Thursday were in unclassified form.
Mr Trump ended his tweet by saying, “WOW! Will the Witch Hunt continue?”
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.
Details from some memos were made public in media accounts in the days after he was fired. At the Senate hearing, Mr Comey detailed his conversations with Mr Trump.
One Comey memo recounts a February request from Mr Trump, during a private meeting in the Oval Office, that Mr Comey end an investigation into Mr Flynn.
Mr Boyd wrote in the letter that the department “consulted the relevant parties” and concluded that releasing the memos would not adversely affect any ongoing investigations. Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating potential ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign as well as possible obstruction of justice by the president.
Mr Boyd said the decision to allow the release of the memos “does not alter the department’s traditional obligation to protect from public disclosure witness statements and other documents obtained during an ongoing investigation”.
Mr Comey said in an interview on Thursday with CNN that he’s “fine” with the Justice Department turning his memos over to Congress.
“I think what folks will see if they get to see the memos is I’ve been consistent since the very beginning, right after my encounters with President Trump, and I’m consistent in the book and tried to be transparent in the book as well,” he said.
Last week, the Republican chairmen of three House committees demanded the memos by Monday. The Justice Department asked for more time, and the politcians agreed.