By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
Former FBI Director James Comey was the downfall for 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations and now he might be President Donald Trump’s downfall. On Tuesday, May 16, 2017, the New York Times reported that after Comey met with the president at the White House he wrote a memo recounting that Trump requested that the FBI Director drop his investigation into former National Security Director Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia. The news heightened calls for impeaching President Trump, as hysteria roared through Washington in the latest revelation about the embattled president.
According to the memo, Comey wrote that at Feb. 14 Oval Office meeting, Trump asked him, “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.” The request happened in February, a day after Flynn was forced to resign from his post over conversing with the Russian Ambassador during the presidential transition. The source that spoke to the New York Times pointed out that Comey “documents everything.”
The White House issued a statement denying the reports. The statement said, “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.” Continuing the White House expressed, “The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies and all investigations. This is not a truthful or an accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”
Democrats were quick to cry obstruction of justice, a favorable ground for impeachment. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Commented, “If these reports are true, the president’s brazen attempt to shut down the FBI’s investigation of Michael Flynn is an assault on the rule of law that is fundamental to our democracy. At best, President Trump has committed a grave abuse of executive power. At worst, he has obstructed justice.” While Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York did not go so far in a tweet. Schumer wrote, “The country is being tested in unprecedented ways. I say to all my colleagues in the Senate, history is watching.”
Republicans also questioned reports on the president’s conduct and wanted answers, but were less accusatory. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., remarked, “If Mr. Comey was alleging the president did something inappropriate, it’s an open invitation to come to the Judiciary Committee and tell us about it. I don’t want to read a memo. I want to hear it from him.” Colleague Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. spoke to CBS contributor Bob Schieffer at the International Republican Institute Freedoms Dinner, where he compared the burgeoning political scandal to Richard Nixon’s downfall, Watergate. McCain said, “The only thing I can say is I think we’ve seen this movie before. I think it’s reaching the point where it’s of Watergate-size and scale.”
The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Republican Sen. Richard Burr’s spokesperson issued a statement, “The committee relies on facts to guide the investigation … Sen. Burr will follow relevant leads, but the committee has not seen what The New York Times reported today. It certainly raises questions, and he will follow up on acquiring those facts from credible sources.” Burr’s committee is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election
On Tuesday evening, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee wanted to see the memo and any other documents between Trump and Comey. Chaffetz sent a letter to acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe asking for “all memoranda, notes, summaries, and recordings referring or relating to any communications between Comey and the president.” Chaffetz indicated he wanted the materials by May 24 and indicated he has his “subpoena pen ready.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee sent a similar request to McCabe asking for “all such memos, if they exist, that Mr. Comey created memorializing interactions he had with Presidents Trump and Obama, Attorneys General Sessions and Lynch, and Deputy Attorneys General Rosenstein, Boente, and Yates regarding the investigations of Trump associates’ alleged connections with Russia or the Clinton email investigation.” Additionally, they asked for notes and memos of Comey’s communications with the Department of Justice or White House.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan took a cautious approach. His spokeswoman AshLee Strong issued a statement saying, “We need to have all the facts, and it is appropriate for the House Oversight Committee to request this memo.” Speaking to the press, Ryan indicated, “We need the facts. It’s obvious there are some people out there who want to harm the president…before rushing to judgment we get all the pertinent information.” Still, he promises, “We’re going to follow the facts wherever they may lead.” Speaker Ryan did tell the media he has confidence in President Trump. Both the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee have sent letters to Comey requesting he testify in front of them.
Congress will continue to obtain any evidence to show whether Trump fired Comey to impede the FBI’s investigation into his campaign including any communications between the two. Trump already admitted he was thinking of the Russia investigation when he fired the FBI Director. However, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe told the Senate Intelligence Committee, “There has been no effort to impede our investigation to date.”
Obstruction of Justice is defined as 18 U.S.Code § 1505 Anyone who “corruptly” attempts to “influence, obstruct or impede” the “due and proper administration of the law.” According to 18 U.S.Code § 1515 (b) “corruptly” is defined as “acting with an improper purpose, personally or by influencing another, including making a false or misleading statement, or withholding, concealing, altering, or destroying a document or other information.”
Any member of Congress can initiate the impeachment process to remove a federal official “for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” According to Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution the House of Representatives can impeach, but the Senate has the power to hold a trial and convict and remove that official from office.