WASHINGTON — As soon as President Trump was wheels-up, bound for Riyadh in his first overseas trip, a story broke that prompted fresh calls from lawmakers for the transcripts of last week’s Oval Office meeting between President Trump and Russian officials.
The New York Times, citing an unnamed American official reading from the transcript of the meeting to their reporters, reported that Trump boasted about the firing of former FBI Director James Comey to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak while referring to Comey as a “nut job.”
“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump allegedly said to the Russian envoys. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
The president also reportedly told the Russians, “I’m not under investigation.”
The White House did not deny the conversation took place, but said that the investigation into Russia’s campaign influence operation had impeded the administration’s ability to negotiate with Moscow on other matters.
“By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement. “The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it.”
“Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations,” Spicer added.
The NYT noted that a government official briefed on the meeting said the president was deploying a negotiating tactic “to create a sense of obligation with Russian officials and to coax concessions out of Mr. Lavrov — on Syria, Ukraine and other issues — by saying that Russian meddling in last year’s election had created enormous political problems for Mr. Trump.”
Separately, the Washington Post reported that at least one senior White House official is being looked at as a “significant person of interest” in the FBI probe as the investigation is accelerating with grand jury subpoenas.
Spicer responded, “As the president has stated before, a thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity.”
Some members of Congress had been calling for the transcripts of the Russia meeting after reports early this week that Trump revealed highly classified information to Lavrov and Kislyak, intelligence about an ISIS plot that Israel reportedly had asked not be shared with any other country. Foreign Policy magazine reported today that Israeli officials angrily shouted at their American counterparts over the disclosures in follow-up meetings.
“Congress, specifically the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, should still be given access to any transcripts or related summaries of the president’s meetings with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador – during which reports have alleged he may have divulged highly sensitive intelligence,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday on the Senate floor.
In response to today’s report, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) called on Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) to request the meeting transcripts.
“This new report that President Trump openly admitted to the Russians that he ‘faced great pressure’ from the FBI’s criminal investigation that was ‘taken off’ when he fired Director Comey is astonishing — and extremely troubling,” Cummings said. “If these White House documents in fact exist memorializing the president’s statements to the Russians, the Oversight Committee needs to obtain copies immediately.”
“Chairman Chaffetz should request these White House documents today and have his subpoena pen ready — just as he did earlier this week with the memos written by Director Comey.”
This refers to an earlier NYT report that Trump allegedly asked Comey to “let go” of the investigation into former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn and his Russia ties, a February Oval Office meeting that Comey chronicled in a two-page memo.