James Comey's Trump memos: Here are the takeaways

Key Points
  • James Comey wrote the memos while FBI director after each of his interactions with President Trump.
  • Comey says Trump told him that former national security advisor Michael Flynn has "serious judgment issues."
  • Trump repeatedly brought up the salacious Steele dossier and Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe.
Comey's private memos now public
Comey's private memos now public

President Donald Trump told James Comey that former national security advisor Michael Flynn had "serious judgment issues."

This is among the new details that emerged from memos written by the fired former FBI director about his conversations with the president.

Comey wrote the memos before Trump fired him last May. The redacted memos, released to Congress by the Justice Department, were leaked to the media Thursday night. House Republican committee leaders had requested the memos and considered issuing subpoenas against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein if he did not comply.

The release included seven memos spanning 15 pages of notes Comey says were written almost immediately after his exchanges with Trump. The memos appear to corroborate Comey's other stated recollections of his time with the president, both in congressional testimony and in his newly released memoir.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the memos.

New debate over Trump's Russia 'cloud'

In his written testimony ahead of a congressional cross-examination last year, Comey said Trump had called the Russia probe a "cloud" over his administration.

In a statement about the release of Comey's memos, Reps. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said: "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."

According to Comey's memos, Trump used the language in a March 30 phone call:

"He then said he was trying to run the country and the cloud of this Russia business was making that difficult. He said he thinks he would have won the health care vote but for the cloud. He then went on at great length, explaining that he has nothing to do with Russia ... was not involved with hookers in Russia ... is bringing a lawsuit against [author of dossier alleging Trump-Russia collusion] Christopher Steele."

The memo goes on to say that Trump asked what Comey "could do to lift the cloud."

In Comey's memo from March 30, Trump also mentions the "cloud," saying "he was trying to make deals for the country, the cloud was hurting him ... and he hoped I could find a way to get out that he wasn't being investigated."

But while the contents of the dossier are mentioned in the exchange, it is not clear that Trump's "cloud" solely includes the bombshell dossier produced by intelligence firm Fusion GPS, which makes salacious accusations about Trump and Russia.

Trump said Flynn 'has serious judgment issues'

During a dinner with Trump at the White House in January 2017, a Comey memo says, the president said "he has serious reservations" about the judgment of his first national security advisor, Michael Flynn.

Trump then recounted an instance in which he told British Prime Minister Theresa May that she was the first world leader 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] call and he confronted Flynn about it. ... 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]. ... In telling the story, the president pointed his fingers at his head and said "the guy has serious judgment issues."

Still, Trump later told Comey: "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."

The Associated Press reported Friday that the caller whose name is blacked-out in the memo was Russian President Vladimir Putin, citing two people familiar with the call.

Flynn was later fired, which the White House said was because he misled Vice President Mike Pence about contacts with Russian officials. Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about those contacts.

But before Flynn's ouster, then-chief of staff Reince Priebus asked Comey in February 2017 if the FBI ordered surveillance against Flynn through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, according to the memo.

The request is significant, as only suspected foreign agents can be monitored through the law. Comey's answer was redacted in the public release.

Trump suggested jailing reporters to stop leaks 

In a February memo, Comey told Trump he was "eager to find leakers and would like to nail one to the door as a message." As part of the search for leakers in the FBI, Comey expressed "the value of putting a head on a pike as a message."

Trump's suggestion was that "it may involve putting reporters in jail."

"'They spend a couple days in jail, make a new friend, and they are ready to talk,'" Comey recalled Trump saying. Comey then wrote "I laughed as I walked to the door Reince Priebus had opened."

Earlier in the conversation, Comey wrote that Trump cited Judith Miller, a New York Times reporter who served time in prison for refusing to divulge a source she had used for a story about who outed a woman as a CIA agent during the Bush 43 administration.

Trump said "that we need to go after the reporters, and referred to the fact that 10 or 15 years ago we put them in jail to find out what they know, and it worked." Comey added that Trump mentioned Miller by name.

Miller's source was later revealed to be Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney. Coincidentally, Trump pardoned Libby last week.

Trump's lingering fixations

In Comey's memos, Trump continually returned to the most lurid of all the allegations in the now-infamous Steele dossier: that he had paid prostitutes to urinate on a mattress in a Moscow hotel room in 2013.

At his January dinner with Trump, Comey wrote, the president asked him to "investigate the whole thing to prove it was a lie."

Trump brought it up again in a later exchange:

"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 [at the time alleged in the dossier]. ... 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.'"

Trump also repeatedly referenced Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired last month just hours before he became eligible for full retirement benefits. Comey defended McCabe as a "professional" throughout, though Trump made reference to the fact that McCabe's wife, Jill, ran for elected office as a Democrat.