Just weeks after taking office, president Trump called the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey and asked him when federal authorities were going to put out word that “Mr. Trump was not personally under investigation, the New York Times reported, citing two people briefed on the call.
According to those people, Mr. Comey told the president that if he wanted to know details about the bureau’s investigations, he should not contact him directly but instead “follow the proper procedures and have the White House counsel send any inquiries to the Justice Department.”
Then, during a White Dinner, Mr. Trump asked Comey to pledge his loyalty and a meeting in the Oval Office at which Mr. Trump told him he hoped Mr. Comey would shut down an investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser, Gen. Michael Flynn. Trump has denied making the request.
After explaining to Mr. Trump how communications with the F.B.I. should work, Mr. Comey believed he had effectively drawn the line after a series of encounters he had with the president and other White House officials that he felt jeopardized the F.B.I.’s independence. At the time, Mr. Comey was overseeing the investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia.
However, the day after the Flynn conversation, Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, asked Mr. Comey to help push back on reports in the news media that Mr. Trump’s associates had been in contact with Russian intelligence officials during the campaign.
It is not clear whether in all their interactions Mr. Comey answered Mr. Trump’s question or if he ever told him whether he was under investigation. In a letter Mr. Trump sent to Mr. Comey in which he informed him that he had been fired, Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, “I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.”
FBI guidelines prohibit conversations with the White House about active criminal investigations unless they are “important for the performance of the president’s duties and appropriate from a law enforcement perspective.” When such conversations are necessary, only the attorney general or the deputy attorney general can initiate those discussions.
As the Times reports:
“James Comey has spoken privately of his concerns that the contacts from Mr. Trump and his aides were inappropriate, and how he felt compelled to resist them.
Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, recalls a lunch he had with Mr. Comey in March at which Mr. Comey told him he had spent the first two months of Mr. Trump’s administration trying to preserve distance between the F.B.I. and the White House and educating it on the proper way to interact with the bureau.
Mr. Wittes said he never intended to publicly discuss his conversations with Mr. Comey. But after The New York Times reported earlier this month that shortly after his inauguration Mr. Trump asked Mr. Comey for a loyalty pledge, Mr. Wittes said he saw Mr. Trump’s behavior in a “more menacing light” and decided to speak out.
Mr. Wittes said Mr. Comey told him that despite Mr. Trump’s attempts to build a personal relationship, he did not want to be friendly with the president and thought any conversation with him or personal contact was inappropriate.”
The allegations revealed in Comey’s memo raise the prospect of Obstruction of Justice, a charge punishable by imprisonment.
In short: Trump is in big trouble.