Firing Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey is already coming back to haunt President Donald Trump.
In dismissing Mr. Comey last week, Mr. Trump created the very real possibility that a respected law enforcement official known for an outspoken nature and willingness to buck political convention could resurface in public.
And while Mr. Comey himself has been silent, his associates have been exposing intriguing details of his encounters with Mr. Trump.
Was Trump meddling?
On Tuesday, an associate revealed that Mr. Comey had written a memo in which he described Mr. Trump asking him to shut down an FBI investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Mr. Comey, who was known to keep a paper trail of sensitive meetings, chronicled the President’s request soon after the February Oval Office meeting with Mr. Trump, an associate who has seen the memo told The Associated Press. The associate was not authorized to discuss the memo by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The FBI and Justice Department declined to comment on Tuesday on accounts of the memo, which was first reported by The New York Times. The White House disputed the account.
The conversation occurred weeks after the FBI interviewed Mr. Flynn regarding his contacts with the Russian Ambassador to the United States and after the acting Attorney-General, Sally Yates, warned the White House that Mr. Flynn had misled them about those conversations and could be vulnerable to blackmail.
Mr. Flynn was forced to resign on February 13 after reports of the Yates-White House conversation.
‘Obstruction in real time’
News on Tuesday of Mr. Trump’s request to Mr. Comey immediately renewed concerns from congressional Democrats that Mr. Trump was trying to obstruct an investigation that’s been examining potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.
“We are witnessing an obstruction of justice case unfolding in real time,” Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Judiciary Committee member and former federal prosecutor, said in a statement. He called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate.
Some Republicans also called for action, asking Mr. Comey to speak to the Congress and demanding that any memos or recordings of his conversations with the President be presented to them.
Comey and transparency
Mr. Comey, appointed as FBI director in 2013 by President Barack Obama, spoke often about his desire to be as transparent as possible about FBI actions and about proving to the public that his agency was independent, competent and thorough.
“We’re not on anybody’s side, ever,” he said in a March speech. “We’re not considering whose ox will be gored by this action or that action, whose fortunes will be helped by this or that, we just don’t care and we can’t care.”
Testifying before the Congress is familiar to Mr. Comey, a former Justice Department official in the George W. Bush administration.
As FBI director, he was accustomed to hours-long oversight hearings before Congress covering a wide range of topics. In 2007, years before his appointment as FBI director, he recounted to a rapt congressional audience about a dramatic hospital room clash three years earlier with fellow Bush administration officials over the approval of a domestic surveillance program.
The associate who described the memo has said Mr. Comey is willing to testify but wants to do it in public to ensure a full airing of events. Mr. Comey created several memos of encounters with Mr. Trump to ensure that a record would exist of conversations he found odd or troubling, according to the person.
Mr. Comey was abruptly fired on May 9 and learned of the dismissal as he was giving a talk in Los Angeles. While the White House initially cited a Justice Department recommendation and Mr. Comey’s very public handling of the Clinton email investigation as reasons, those explanations quickly shifted.
‘This Russia thing’ vexed Trump
Mr. Trump later admitted in a television interview about Comey’s firing that he was bothered by “this Russia thing” and said he would have fired Mr. Comey regardless of the Justice Department recommendation. He also tweeted a veiled threat last Friday warning the ex-director against leaking information.
Soon after the firing, a Comey associate told the AP that Mr. Comey recounted being asked by Mr. Trump at a January dinner if he would pledge his loyalty. The White House has denied that report.
The associate also confirmed an account from the Times that Mr. Trump vented about media leaks during his conversation with Mr. Comey, and that the President expressed support for seeing reporters in prison.
The associate also confirmed that Mr. Trump asked Vice-President Mike Pence and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions to leave the room before speaking privately with Mr. Comey about Mr. Flynn, and that the President told Mr. Comey he believed Mr. Flynn was a “good guy” and asked if the FBI could end the investigation into him.
After Tuesday’s revelation, the White House said in a statement, “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.”
Russia probe will go on
There is no sign the FBI’s Russia investigation is closing. Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe told Congress last week the investigation is “highly significant” and said Mr. Comey’s dismissal would do nothing to impede the probe.