WASHINGTON - When the news broke this week that President Trump had passed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister at a White House meeting, administration officials said the story was “false.”
It was another example of wrongdoing that Trump and his advisers dismiss as “fake news” invented by the major news media to bring down his presidency.
At the time, the president’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, flatly said the story was entirely untrue, but refused to take any questions.
But the day after the story broke, under headlines that said “Trump reveals secret intelligence to Russians,” the president decided that he had better come clean on this one, admitting that the story was in fact true.
Not only true, Trump said, but that he had the “absolute right” to share “facts” with the Russian foreign minister, he wrote in an early-morning tweet earlier this week.
“As President I wanted to share with Russia… which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline safety,” he defensively said in two postings on his Tweet account.
“It was a full flip-flop, going from absolutely “false” to “either confirming or declining to challenge nearly every key aspect of the account,” the Washington Post said.
It was emblematic of so many other dubious White House denials since he assumed office. The West Wing was leaking like a sieve and Trump was powerless to stop it.
The latest blockbuster revelation came this week from fired FBI director James B. Comey in a private memo he wrote after an Oval Office meeting with the president in February. In that memo he accuses Trump of attempting to persuade him to shut down the FBI’s investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, who was fired by Trump after admitting he lied about several contacts he had with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
Immediately after the meeting, Comey returned to his office and wrote a memo which revealed that Trump asked him “I hope you can let this go.”
The New York Times, which broke the memo story this week, said Trump told Comey, according to his memo, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
Trump went on to say that Flynn had done nothing wrong, according to the memo, portions of which were read to the Times reporter by one of Comey’s associates at the FBI.
Comey not only wrote down what Trump had asked of him, but he shared the contents of his memo with senior FBI officials and other close colleagues.
The Times pointedly noted in its story that “An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.”
But once again Trump went into deep denial that he had ever said any such thing to Comey.
In a statement, the White House said “the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation involving General Flynn.”
Notably, however, Comey has written “similar memos…about every phone call and meeting he has had with the president,” the Times reported. From the time Trump asked for his loyalty in the FBI’s ensuing investigation — and Comey replied he could only pledge his “honesty” — to Trump’s latest attempt to end the entire FBI probe into what he calls “this Russia thing” that he says is a “made-up story.”
But this time he may have gone too far in his attempts to shut down the investigation into the widening Russian scandal that now threatens to bring down his presidency.
The Times doesn’t mince words about what’s at stake here. “The documentation of Mr. 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 Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia,” the newspaper said.
There are at present five investigative committees in Congress that are digging into every aspect of this “Russia thing,” preparing to hold public and closed door hearings, and issue subpoenas.
And they are anxious to get ahold of Comey’s memo. “I need to see it sooner rather then later,” said GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah who chairs the House Oversight Committee. “I have my subpoena pen ready.”
And the Justice Department, having lost all credibility in its mishandling of the scandal, has just named the widely respected former FBI director and prosecutor Robert Mueller III to launch his own independent investigation.
The White House didn’t learn of his appointment by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein until 30 minutes before it was publicly announced.
It was a stern reminder that Mueller is backed by the nation’s highest law enforcement authority in his mission to uncover the truth, no matter where or to whom it may lead.