Let’s start off by listing the allegations of wrongdoing by President Donald Trump in the last couple months, but limit the topic to Russia.
-- He failed to act on a warning from the Department of Justice that his national security adviser was susceptible to blackmail.
-- He appointed an attorney general who admitted he could appear compromised in the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and chose to remove himself from the investigation.
I’m told there are multiple memos about contacts with the president that raised concerns with the director – vis-à-vis improper White House contact
An associate of former FBI Director James Comey who has seen a memo in the latest news on Trump and Russia
-- He abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey, who was directing the probe into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump election campaign.
-- He appears to have disclosed sensitive intelligence information, gathered by an ally, to an adversary – Russian officials.
-- And finally, he reportedly urged Comey, while still at the FBI, to drop the investigation of the former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
And those are just the main headlines.
The scope of the Russia-gate story has become so great that reporters in Washington have taken to repeating the names of the players to each other in an attempt not to forget any. As Tuesday’s development makes clear, it’s getting a bit more overwhelming with every passing day.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell caught that spirit in an interview aired Tuesday on Bloomberg TV. “I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House,” he said.
And that was before Tuesday’s New York Times report revealing that Comey had written memos detailing Trump’s efforts to quash his investigation.
Sally Yates was the acting attorney general who warned Trump about Flynn’s blackmail exposure less than a week after Trump was sworn in. Trump fired her on Jan. 30, two weeks before Flynn himself was forced out the door on Feb. 13.
Flynn had failed for months to disclose, as required by law, that he’d taken quite a lot of money from entities seen to function on behalf of Russia and Turkey. Members of Congress think he might face prison time for that.
In March, Comey famously confirmed that “the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russian efforts.”
He then explained, “As with any counter intelligence investigation this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.”
President Trump has repeatedly said and tweeted that he is not the subject of an investigation, that there is nothing going on with “the Russia thing.”
But during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing last week, the acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, said Comey’s statement on the investigation was as true now as when Comey made it. When asked about the importance of the matter, he said: “We consider it to be a highly significant investigation.”
And the circus wasn’t as simple as Comey was fired. Next came the spectacle of White House officials explaining that the firing had happened on the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, only to have that version contradicted by the president himself in a television interview. Trump told NBC News’ Lester Holt on Thursday that he had acted alone and had intended to fire Comey regardless of what Rosenstein had recommended.
But Comey was last week. Before that series of events could be fully unpacked and studied, there were new allegations Monday, in a Washington Post story, that Trump had shared sensitive intelligence with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak.
Again, the White House staff found its explanations of what took place contradicted by the president, who tweeted that he had indeed shared some “facts” with the Russians, and defiantly pointed out that he had acted well within his rights.
So when the latest news report of a Russia-tinged scandal broke Tuesday, the reaction was a mixture of intrigue and exhaustion.
This time, it was a New York Times story detailing a meeting that took place in February between Comey and Trump on the day after Trump fired Flynn for lying about his contacts with Kislyak.
According to the Times’ report, Comey wrote that Trump sought an end to Comey’s investigation of Flynn. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” the Times story quoted the memo as saying.
An associate of Comey’s, who says he has seen this memo, explained to McClatchy that that memo was not the only one. “I’m told there are multiple memos about contacts with the president that raised concerns with the director – vis-à-vis improper White House contact.”
He said he had not seen all the memos, but had been told: “These memos are very detailed.”
As The Times story broke, senators filed into the chamber for votes just after 5 p.m. They were met by legions of reporters who began telling them about the report.
Most senators did not have an immediate response.
A reporter showed his cell phone displaying the story to South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. Graham briefly surveyed the story, then silently shook his head.
Later, he would suggest that Comey needed to testify before Congress.
“If the president did anything inappropriate, say it and just get it out in the open,” Graham said. “If there’s evidence that something bad happened, I want to see the evidence . . . If he felt confident enough to write it down, he should come in and tell us about it.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California’s senior senator, called for the Senate Intelligence Committee, of which she is a member, to hold hearings on Flynn. She also suggested there was a role for the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the FBI and the Justice Department and which she serves as the senior Democrat.
But Feinstein said she needed time to take in the latest development.
“It’s one article I just heard in a meeting so before I say anymore I’d like to have the opportunity to read the whole story,” she said.
In an email later, she pronounced herself “shocked and surprised by this development.” She said she needed to discuss it with the Judiciary Committee’s Republican chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
She added, “The Judiciary Committee is the appropriate place to hold a hearing and get to the bottom of exactly what was said and by whom.”
Alex Daugherty, Lesley Clark contributed to this article.
A TURBULENT TRUMP PRESIDENCY
Jan. 21 – White House press secretary Sean Spicer attacks media for reporting size of inauguration crowds.
Jan. 26 – Acting Attorney General Sally Yates reports to the White House that national security adviser Michael Flynn has lied about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.
Jan. 27 - President Donald Trump signs executive order temporarily banning travel from seven Muslim majority countries
Jan. 30 – Trump fires Yates
Feb. 9 – 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upholds a restraining order against the travel ban.
Feb. 13 – Trump fires Flynn.
March 2 – Attorney General Jeff Sessions recuses himself from any investigations relating to Russia and the Trump campaign.
March 6 – Trump issues revised temporarily travel ban of six Muslim-majority countries
March 15 – Travel ban blocked again by a federal judge in Hawaii
March 20 – FBI director James Comey testifies that an investigation into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russian election meddling has been underway since June.
March 22 – Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., announces that he has seen secret information about incidental collection of Trump and his associates. He cancels the House Intelligence Committee’s public hearing with Yates.
May 8 – Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testify on Russian election interference before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee.
May 9 - Trump fires Comey
May 15 – Washington Post reports that Trump disclosed confidential information to Russia officials
May 16 – New York Times reports that Comey wrote a memo detailing Trump’s efforts to persuade him to drop the Flynn investigation
– Franco Ordoñez