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Comey may have been using memos to build a case against Trump, says former Justice official

  • Former FBI Director James Comey may have been building a case against President Trump before he was fired, a former Justice Department official said.
  • News that Comey wrote a memo in February detailing how Trump urged him to stand down on a probe into Michael Flynn has stunned the White House, Capitol Hill and much of the public.
  • The existence of the document should come as no surprise to those who know the career law enforcement officer, according to Matthew Miller, a former DOJ spokesman.

Former FBI Director James Comey may have been building a case against President Donald Trump before he was fired, a former Justice Department official said.

News that Comey wrote a memo in February detailing how Trump urged him to stand down on an investigation into fired national security advisor Michael Flynn has stunned the White House, Capitol Hill and much of the public.

But the existence of the document should come as no surprise to those who know the career law enforcement officer, according to Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman and MSNBC analyst.

In fact, the document may have been more than an afterthought after a troubling Oval Office conversation, he said.

"I think there is a good possibility that Jim Comey continued to have these conversations with the president because he was actually building an obstruction of justice case," Miller told MSNBC on Wednesday.

That prospect was echoed by Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who is also a former attorney general for that state.

"The memo is powerful evidence of obstruction of justice and certainly merits immediate and prompt investigation by an independent special prosecutor," he said.

Efforts to reach Comey were unsuccessful. The FBI said it has no contact information for him.

The turmoil surrounding the disclosure of the memo followed a week of chaos at the White House after Trump fired Comey and then reportedly discussed sensitive national security information about Islamic State with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Comey's memo, first disclosed by The New York Times, was reportedly written the day after Trump fired Flynn on Feb. 14 for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the extent of his conversations last year with Russia's ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.

"I hope you can let this go," Trump told Comey, according to multiple published reports.

The White House quickly denied the Times report, saying in a statement it was "not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey."

"I don't want to read a memo. I want to hear it from him." -Lindsey Graham, Republican senator

Comey's interest in keeping a record of his Oval Office meeting should come as no surprise to anyone who has read the FBI's official "Manual of Administrative Operations and Procedures."

The 113-page section relating to written communication offers detailed guidance on everything from how to address an envelope to how pages should be numbered.

It also spells out the proper use of Form FD-302, "on which information is recorded that may later become testimony." The manual makes clear that if "it is anticipated the results will become the subject of court testimony the rough handwritten notes are to be retained."

It was unclear Wednesday if or when the Comey notes will be released. Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has sent the FBI a letter asking for all memos, notes and recordings between Comey and Trump by May 24.

But lawmakers are looking for more than Comey's written recollections of his dealings with the president.

"I don't want to read a memo. I want to hear it from him," said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in an MSNBC interview, referring to Comey.

Comey memos have had big impact before

This would not be the first time Comey had the foresight to document an exchange that later sparked a major White House controversy.

In 2005, when Comey was deputy attorney general he emailed his chief of staff and others about objections to the George W. Bush administration's use of harsh interrogation techniques, according to Politico. In the messages, Comey reportedly acknowledged that he approved most of the Office of Legal Counsel opinions authorizing the techniques, but he said he'd urged then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to advise the White House to abandon the harshest methods.

"In stark terms I explained to him what this would look like some day and what it would mean for the president and the government," Comey wrote in a 2005 email message to his chief of staff, according to the Politico report. Comey added that future reviews would probably conclude "that some of this stuff was simply awful."

When a controversy over the use of harsh interrogation flared up in June 2009, Comey's mails made clear that he had not supported the policy.

"Comey had the foresight to write that email and then, when he left the DOJ, to print it out and put in into the file and hold onto it until four years later, when The New York Times went to write about his," said Miller.

— Reuters contributed to this report.

Correction: Michael Flynn was fired as national security advisor. An earlier version misstated his title.

Watch: House Oversight Committee asks Comey to testify Wednesday