On Tuesday evening, congressional lawmakers were forced to respond to the second immediately controversial story involving the president to surface in roughly 24 hours. The New York Times reported that President Trump asked former FBI Director James Comey to halt a federal investigation into ousted National-Security Adviser Michael Flynn, citing a memo written by Comey as its source.
Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, fired off a letter to acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, demanding that the bureau produce all “memoranda, notes, summaries, and recordings” of James Comey’s meetings with Trump no later than May 24. The reports in the press, he wrote, “raise questions as to whether the President attempted to influence or impede the FBI’s investigation as it relates to Lt. Gen. Flynn.”
He delivered a similar message to his Twitter followers:
.@GOPoversight 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.— Jason Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse) May 16, 2017
AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, indicated in a statement that the GOP leader supported the committee’s efforts. “We need to have all the facts, and it is appropriate for the House Oversight Committee to request this memo,” she wrote in an e-mail.
Not all Republican lawmakers appeared quite so eager to employ congressional oversight tools to seek the memo, however.
In response to a question about whether he would try to obtain it, Senator Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is currently investigating Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, reportedly told journalists that “the burden is on The New York Times, if they’re reporting it, and they’ve got somebody who’s got the document.” According to Politico’s Elana Schor, Burr said: “They need to get the document and get it released.”
Burr’s committee, though, has the power to issue subpoenas, just as other House and Senate panels do. The Senate Intelligence Committee website states that “subpoenas authorized by the committee for the attendance of witnesses or the production of memoranda, documents, records, or any other material may be issued by the chairman, the vice chairman, or any member of the committee designated by the chairman.”
In response to an e-mailed question about whether Burr’s committee would attempt to subpoena the Comey memo, a representative for Burr replied: “The committee will continue to follow the facts where they lead.”
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters on Tuesday that he has asked Comey to testify “before the Judiciary Committee to tell his side of the story,” according to a Politico report that published just after the Times story broke. Comey had previously declined to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. A number of House Republicans echoed calls for Comey to appear in front of Congress, and reportedly so did Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own investigation into Russian interference in the election.
The FBI is also conducting an examination of Russia’s involvement, information that Comey made public during a March congressional hearing.
The White House denied the Times report, telling the paper in a statement that “the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn. … 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.”
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that if the reports are true, at best “Trump has committed a grave abuse of power,” or “at worst, he has obstructed justice.” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, speaking on the Senate floor, warned that “the country is being tested in unprecedented ways.”
Some Democrats raised the specter of impeachment in reaction to the news. On Twitter, Democratic Representative Ted Deutch of Florida wrote: “Asking FBI to drop an investigation is obstruction of justice. Obstruction of justice is an impeachable offense.” CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Independent Senator Angus King if “we are getting closer and closer to the possibility of yet another impeachment process.” To which the Maine senator replied: “Reluctantly … I have to say yes, simply because obstruction of justice is such a serious offense.”
The report arrives one week after Trump fired Comey as FBI director. At the time, the president cited a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, which criticized Comey’s handling of his agency’s investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server.
Later, however, Trump indicated that he had planned to fire Comey “regardless of recommendation.” Trump added that “when I decided to do it, I said to myself—I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.”
On Tuesday, some Republican lawmakers reacted with a general sense of dismay in the wake of the recent news reports on the president. “If recent allegations are true, they mark the beginning of a new and very sad chapter of scandal and controversy in our country,” GOP Representative Carlos Curbelo of Florida wrote on Twitter.
On Monday, lawmakers were asked to respond to a Washington Post report alleging that the president had shared highly sensitive classified information with Russian officials in the White House related to terrorism. Administration officials have pushed back against the report. The next day, however, Trump posted two tweets that appeared to confirm the disclosure, saying that he had an “absolute right” to “share with Russia” information related to terrorism.