The ACLU today sought the public release of memos reportedly prepared by former FBI Director James Comey that describe his conversations with President Trump. According to multiple news sources, one of those memos documents a conversation in which President Trump urged Comey to close the bureau’s investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. This Freedom of Information Act request comes two days after another ACLU request for documents relating to Comey’s abrupt dismissal last week.
Our request, submitted to the Department of Justice and the FBI, comes after The New York Times broke the story that Comey had memorialized his meetings with Trump, including one that took place in February, the day after Flynn was forced to resign amidst revelations he had lied about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States.
We believe the issues raised by the Comey memos are so vital that the public should have access to them without delay.
According to reports of the memo’s contents, the president asked the other people present in the Oval Office at the time, including Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to leave the room. Angry over the steady stream of leaks from within his administration, he suggested that Comey jail journalists for publishing classified information and expressed his hope that the FBI director would drop the ongoing investigation into Flynn. “I hope you can let this go,” the memo reportedly quotes Trump as saying.
The commotion around Trump’s statements on Flynn has somewhat obscured his no less chilling request that Comey jail journalists for publishing information based on leaks — something that has never happened in the history of this country. A president who believes that reporters should be criminalized for holding government to account is a president who brazenly disregards the bedrock principles of the First Amendment. Yet recent events make the media’s integral role in protecting our democracy clearer than ever.
We don’t yet know how straight the line is from the FBI’s investigation to Comey’s dismissal, though Trump did indicate last week that the Russia investigation played a role in his decision. But there is more than enough cause for concern, and we’re heartened to see that congressional Republicans agree. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, also sent a letter today demanding that the FBI turn over the memo in question, along with any other records documenting Trump’s communications with Comey, by next Wednesday.
While we hope that Congress will be serious about its constitutional oversight role, we believe the issues raised by the Comey memos are so vital that the public should have access to them without delay.