President Donald Trump asked FBI Director James Comey to end the federal investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn during an Oval Office meeting in February, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
According to the Times, Comey disclosed the request in a memo he wrote shortly after the Feb. 14 meeting – the day after Flynn resigned.
"I hope you can let this go," Trump told Comey, according to Comey's memo, the Times reported. The newspaper said an unnamed associate of Comey read parts of the memo to a Times reporter.
"He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."
Trump told Comey that Flynn had done nothing wrong, according to the memo. Comey only replied: "I agree, he is a good guy," but did not say he would curtail the probe, the Times reported.
In a statement, the White House denied the version of events in the memo.
"While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that Gen. 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," the statement said.
"The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey."
According to the Times, Comey shared the memo with senior FBI officials and associates; one associate read parts of the memo to a Times reporter, the newspaper said.
The Times reported Comey had been in the Oval Office on Feb. 14 with other senior national security officials for a terrorism threat briefing. When the meeting ended, Trump told those present — including Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions — to leave, except for Comey.
Once alone, Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, saying Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, the Times reported, citing one of Comey's associates.
Trump then turned the discussion to Flynn, according to the Times.
After writing up a memo that outlined the meeting, Comey shared it with senior FBI officials. And, the Times reported, though Comey and his aides perceived the president's comments as an effort to influence the investigation, they decided they would try to keep the conversation secret — even from the FBI agents working on the Russia investigation — so the details of the conversation would not affect the probe.
The Times reported Comey created similar memos – including some that are classified – about every phone call and meeting he had with the president.
Coming the day after charges that Trump disclosed sensitive information to the Russians last week, the new disclosure further rattled members of Congress.
"The memo is powerful evidence of obstruction of justice and certainly merits immediate and prompt investigation by an independent special prosecutor," said Democratic U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers said they wanted to see the memo.
Republican U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz, chairman of a House of Representatives oversight committee, said his committee "is going to get the Comey memo, if it exists. I need to see it sooner rather than later. I have my subpoena pen ready."
Legal experts took a dim view of Trump's comments, as quoted in the memo.
"For the president to tell the FBI to end a potential criminal investigation, that's obstruction of justice," said Erwin Chereminsky, a constitutional law professor and dean of University of California, Irvine School of Law. "This is what caused President Nixon to resign from office."
But the experts said intent was a critical element of an obstruction of justice charge, and the president’s words could be subject to interpretation and possibly put into the context of other actions, like Comey’s termination.
The fact that the president apparently said he “hoped” Comey would end the Flynn investigation rather than more directly ordering it “makes for a weaker but still viable case,” said Christopher Slobogin, a criminal law professor at Vanderbilt University Law School.
Flynn's resignation came hours after it was reported that the Justice Department had warned the White House weeks earlier that Flynn could be vulnerable to blackmail for contacts with Kislyak before Trump took office on Jan. 20.
Kislyak was with Lavrov at the White House when Trump disclosed the sensitive information.
A spokeswoman for the FBI declined to comment on the details of the memo.
An emailed fundraising appeal by Trump's political organization and the Republican National Committee sent out after reports of the Comey memo said Trump was being victimized by an "unelected bureaucracy."
"You already knew the media was out to get us," it said. "But sadly it’s not just the fake news… There are people within our own unelected bureaucracy that want to sabotage President Trump and our entire 'America First' movement."
The new development came as Republican and Democratic lawmakers pressured Trump to give a fuller explanation for why he revealed sensitive intelligence information to Lavrov.
The information had been supplied by a U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State militant group, the officials said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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