Everything We Learned From the James Comey Memos

This is what House Republicans wanted everyone to know? Photo: Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In the week since fired FBI director James Comey’s book was released, President Trump has been unusually upbeat. Why? According to CNN, “He’s pleased at how Republicans and the White House led the charge to try and discredit the former FBI director.”

It’s true that House Republicans have ratcheted up their efforts to undermine Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and thus the Russia investigation, in the past week — but their latest move may have backfired. After being threatened with a subpoena and even impeachment, Rosenstein gave in on Thursday and released all 15 pages of Comey’s memos documenting his interactions with Trump.

On the left this raised further questions about Rosenstein’s integrity, but it doesn’t appear the memos had the effect Republicans intended. In a statement the three GOP committee chairmen who demanded that the memos be released — Representatives Bob Goodlatte, Trey Gowdy, and Devin Nunes — said they show Trump “made clear he wanted allegations of collusion, coordination, and conspiracy between his campaign and Russia fully investigated. The memos also made clear the ‘cloud’ President Trump wanted lifted was not the Russian interference in the 2016 election cloud, rather it was the salacious, unsubstantiated allegations related to personal conduct leveled in the dossier.”

But Democrats said that if anything, the memos corroborate Comey’s public accounts about his interactions with Trump, and add more credence to claims made in the Steele dossier. Here are all the big revelations.

Trump Was Obsessed With the “Pee Tape”

Comey said the president brought up the “golden showers thing” in almost every interaction they had, passionately insisting that it was untrue. Often in the same breath, he would reject credible misconduct allegations and deny the the fact that he mocked a disabled reporter, which is a bit curious.

Here’s how Comey described telling Trump about the Steele dossier’s most notorious allegation in a one-on-one meeting weeks before the inauguration:

I said, the Russians allegedly had tapes involving him and prostitutes at the Presidential Suite at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow from about 2013. He interjected, “there were no prostitutes; there were never prostitutes.” He then said something about him being the kind of guy who didn’t need to “go there” and laughed (which I understood to be communicating that he didn’t need to pay for sex). He said “2013” to himself, as if trying to remember that period of time, but didn’t add anything. He said he always assumed that hotel rooms he stayed in when he travels are wired in some way. I replied that I do as well.

Then he started talking about all the women who had falsely accused him of grabbing or touching them (with particular mention of a “stripper” who said he grabbed her) and gave me the sense that he was defending himself to me. I responded that we were not investigating him and the stuff might be totally made up but it was being said out of Russia and our job was to protect the President from efforts to coerce him. I said we try to understand what the Russians are doing and what they might do. I added that I also wanted him to know this in case it came out in the media.

And here’s the unprompted pee-tape discussion from Trump and Comey’s “loyalty dinner”:

At about this point, he turned to what he called the “golden showers thing” and recounted much of what he had said previously on that topic. He repeated that it was a complete fabrication and “fake news.” I explained again why I had thought it was important that he know about it. I also explained that one of the reasons we told him was that the media, CNN in particular, was telling us they were about to run with it. He said it bothered him if his wife thought there was even a one percent chance it was true in any respect. He said he had spoken to people who had been on the Miss Universe trip with him and they had reminded him that he didn’t stay over night in Russia for that. He said he arrived in the morning, did events, then showered and dressed for the pageant at the hotel (he didn’t say the hotel name) and left for the pageant. Afterward, he returned only to get his things because they departed for New York by plane the same night. He said he thought maybe he should ask me to investigate the whole thing to prove it was a lie. I did not ask any questions. I replied that it was up to him, but I wouldn’t want to create a narrative that we were investigating him, because we are not and I worried such a thing would be misconstrued. I also said that it is very difficult to disprove a lie. He said “maybe you’re right,” but several times asked me to think about it and said he would think about it.

Putin Bragged to Trump About the Beauty of Russia’s Hookers

Comey said he stopped by the Oval Office in early February 2017, and Trump brought up the pee tape once again. But this time he revealed that Putin told him Russia’s sex workers are top notch:

The President brought up the “Golden Showers thing” and said it really bothered him if his wife had any doubt about it. He then explained, as he did at our dinner, that he hadn’t stayed overnight in Russia during the Miss Universe trip … The President said “the hookers thing” is nonsense but that Putin had told him “we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world.” (He did not say when Putin had told him this and I don’t recall [redacted]

It’s possible Trump was referring to comments Putin made publicly around that time. Or maybe the two chatted about hookers during their first official phone call:

During their interview on Thursday night, Comey and Rachel Maddow agreed that’s not common banter for heads of state:

Trump Was Obsessed With Andy McCabe, Too

He brought up the former FBI deputy director, whose wife ran as a Democrat in Virginia and lost, during three separate interactions with Comey:

At this point he asked me (and asked again later) whether “your guy McCabe” has a problem with me, explaining that “I was pretty rough on him and his wife during the campaign.” I explained that Andy was a true professional and had no problem at all.

At about this point he asked again about “your guy McCabe” and whether he was “going to be okay.” I again affirmed Andy’s ability and professionalism and said the President would come to see and benefit from both.

He asked (as he had at our dinner) whether my deputy had a problem with him, and recounting how hard he had been on the campaign trail, saying “the number 2 guy at the FBI took a million dollars from the Clintons.” I again explained that Andy McCabe was a pro. He asked whether he had ever mentioned to me the campaign attacks. I said “never,” and again explained he was a true pro and you would come to value him. I said if he had it to do over again, I’m sure he would urge his wife not to run, but that the guy put everything aside and did his job well.

Trump’s Loyalty Request Doesn’t Sound Any Better in Context

After the memos were made public on Thursday night, Trump proclaimed:

Yet Comey’s account of his January 2017 dinner with Trump is still some of the best evidence to the contrary:

[Trump] touched on my future at various points. The first time he asked “so what do you want to do,” explaining that lots of people wanted my job (“about 20 people”), that he thought very highly of me and had heard great things, that the people of the FBI really like me, but he would understand if I wanted to walk away given all I had been through, although he thought that would be bad for me personally because it would look like I had done something wrong, that he of course can make a change at FBI if he wants, but he wants to know what I think. There was no acknowledgement by him (or me) that we had already talked about this twice.

I responded by saying that he could fire me any time he wished, but that I wanted to stay and do a job I love and think I am doing well. I explained that I never expected to be back in government but had found this job hugely rewarding and wanted to serve out my term. I added that I was “reliable” in one way but not in the way political people sometimes use the term. I explained that he could count on me to always tell him the truth. I said I don’t do sneaky things, I don’t leak, I don’t do weasel moves. But I was not on anybody’s side politically and could not be counted on in that traditional political sense, which I said I thought was in the president’s best interest. He asked whether the FBI leaks and I answered that of course in an organization of 36,000 we were going to have some of that, but I said I think the FBI leaks far less than people often say. I predicted he, like all Presidents, would discover the entire government leaks like crazy and explained that it often comes from the first or second hop out from those actually working on the sensitive thing.

He replied that he needed loyalty and expected loyalty. I did not reply, or even nod or change my facial expression, which he noted because we came back to it later.

… The President then spoke again about being glad I wanted to stay. He said Mattis said great things about me, as did Sessions. He explained he had asked a lot of people about me and heard great things. He then returned to loyalty, saying “I need loyalty.” I replied that he would always get honesty from me. He paused and said that’s what he wants, “honest loyalty.” I replied “you will get that from me.” (It is possible we understood that phrase differently, but I chose to understand it was consistent with what I had said throughout the conversation: I will serve the President with loyalty to the office, the country, and the true. I decided it would not be productive to push the subject further.)

Trump Followed Up With a Loyalty Phone Call

The memos provide a fuller account of two less famous Trump-Comey interactions. Comey said Trump called him on March 30, 2017, and went on about how the Russia probe was hurting his presidency, urging him to help downplay it publicly.

He asked what he could do to lift the cloud. I explained that we were running it down as quickly as possible that there would be great benefit, if we didn’t find anything, to our Good Housekeeping seal of approval, but we had to do our work. He agreed, but then returned to the problems this was causing him, went on at length about how bad he was for Russia because of his commitment to more oil and more nukes (ours are 40 years old).

… I reminded him that I had told him we weren’t investigating him and that I had told the Congressional leadership the same thing. He said it would be great if that could get out and several times asked me to find a way to get that out.

Comey said Trump called him again on April 11, 2017, to inquire about why he hadn’t announced that he wasn’t personally under investigation. He recalled that when he told Trump he should take that up with the proper channels (having the White House counsel call the acting attorney general), the president responded: “Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal, we had that thing, you know.” Comey said nothing but assumed he was referring to the loyalty dinner.

Trump Complained About Flynn, Citing Putin Faux Pas

Days before Michael Flynn’s firing, Trump told Comey he was upset that the national security adviser hadn’t promptly set up a return phone call for a foreign head of state. The leader’s name is redacted, but previous reporting reveals Trump was worried about offending Putin.

He then went on to explain that he has serious reservations about Mike Flynn’s judgement and illustrated with a story from that day in which the President apparently discovered during his toast to Teresa May that [redacted] had called four days ago. Apparently, as the President was toasting PM May, he was explaining that she had been the first to call him after his inauguration and Flynn interrupted to say that [redacted] had called [first, apparently]. It was then that the President learned of [redacted’s] call and he confronted Flynn about it (not clear whether that was in the moment or after the lunch with PM May). Flynn said the return call was scheduled for Saturday, which prompted a heated reply from the President that six days was not an appropriate period of time to return a call from the [redacted] of a country like [redacted] (“This isn’t [redacted] we are talking about.”) He said that if he called [redacted] and didn’t get a return call for six days he would be very upset. In telling the story the President pointed his fingers at his head and said “the guy has serious judgement issues.”

Priebus Asked About a Flynn FISA Warrant

Thirteen days after then–Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House that Flynn had lied about his conversation with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asked Comey if he was under a FISA warrant. Comey’s answer was redacted, but it appears he said yes.

[Reince] then asked me if this was a “private conversation.” I replied that it was. He then said he wanted to ask me a question and I could decide whether it was appropriate to answer. He then asked, “Do you have a FISA order on Mike Flynn?” I paused for a few seconds and then said that I would answer here, but that this illustrated the kind of question that had to be asked and answered through established channels. I said the answer [redacted]

Five days later Flynn was fired, and about a week after the Priebus-Comey conversation, the chief of staff reportedly asked top FBI officials to publicly dismiss media reports about possible contact between Trump campaign officials and Russians during the campaign. The FBI refused.

The “Flynn’s a Good Guy” Memo Was Unclassified

Many on the right, including Trump, have accused Comey of leaking classified information when he passed part of his notes to a law professor friend, who then read them to a reporter. The friend has said none of the memos he received were marked classified, and indeed several pages are marked “unclassified” (others were partially redacted for public release).

Here’s Comey’s full description of their conversation on the day after Flynn resigned:

[Trump] began by saying he wanted to “talk about Mike Flynn.” He then said that, although Flynn “hadn’t done anything wrong” in his call with the Russians (a point he made at least two more times in the conversation), he had to let him go because he misled the Vice President, whom he described as “a good guy.” He explained that he just couldn’t have Flynn misleading the Vice President and, in any event, he had other concerns about Flynn, and had a great guy coming in, so he had to let Flynn go.

… He then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying Flynn is a good guy, and has been through a lot. He misled the Vice President but he didn’t do anything wrong in the call. He said, “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.” I replied by saying “I agree he is a good guy,” but I said no more.

Trump and Priebus Asked Why Hillary Wasn’t Charged

“Lock her up” may have seemed like something the Trump campaign was pushing because it riled up the base, but Comey said that in private both Priebus and Trump suggested she should have been charged in the email probe.

Comey said of Priebus: “He then pressed me on why it wasn’t chargeable ‘gross negligence,’ and I took him through the facts and the law.”

And during a conversation with Trump, he “explained that the investigators all agreed there was no case; he said he disagreed and thought there was a case.”

Comey and Flynn Joked About Jailing Reporters

The two men had their differences, but at least they could still laugh about implied prison rape.

I said I was eager to find leakers and would like to nail one to the door as a message. I said something about it being difficult and he replied that we need to go after the reporters, and referred to the fact that 10 or 15 year ago we put them in jail to out what they know, and it worked. He mentioned Judy Miller by name. I explained that I was a fan of pursuing leaks aggressively but that going after reporters was tricky, for legal reason and because DOJ tends to approach it conservatively. He replied by telling me to talk to “Sessions” and see what we can do about being more aggressive. I told him I would talk to the Attorney General. …

The President wrapped up our conversation by returning to the issue of finding leakers. I said something about the value of putting a head on a pike as a message. He replied by saying it may involve putting reporters in jail. “They spend a couple of days in jail, make a new friend, and they are ready to talk.” I laughed as I walked to the door Reince Priebus had opened.

Everything We Learned From the James Comey Memos