Pressure to Release Comey Memos May Have Backfired on G.O.P.

Pressure to Release Comey Memos May Have Backfired on G.O.P.


But by the time the actual memos appeared, the details were already known, and some Republicans suggested the real import of the memos was that they indicated that there was no obstruction of justice case.

“I don’t know that it was necessarily earth-shattering, the new information that we found,” said Representative Mark Meadows, a conservative Republican of North Carolina. “But if someone is trying to suggest an obstruction of justice case, I would use the memos as one of the exhibits to use in the defense. It didn’t sound like Director Comey was intimidated.”

Members of both parties said Friday that Mr. Comey’s notes mostly repeat his public testimony and are unlikely to drastically change the trajectory of Mr. Trump’s presidency or alter the investigations swirling around him.

The release of the memos showed that Mr. Comey’s recent public statements have barely strayed from the recollections that he put on paper during the months before he was fired by Mr. Trump last May. The memos document how the president sought loyalty from Mr. Comey; asked him to “let go” of the investigation into Michael T. Flynn, his national security adviser; and pressed Mr. Comey to publicly clear him in the Russia inquiry.

In addition, the memos provide more evidence of what Mr. Comey saw as the president’s obsession with the allegations of indecent behavior. Mr. Comey wrote in the memos — as he did in his book — that Mr. Trump repeatedly brought up a supposed encounter with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room in 2013.

Democrats said the memos helped establish that Mr. Comey was not a disgruntled employee who made up stories about the president.

“Thanks @HouseGOP for urging release of the Comey memos!” Representative Jackie Speier, Democrat of California, gleefully wrote on Twitter.

Some Republicans continued to assail Mr. Comey, casting doubt on his judgment and suggesting that he had been motivated by resentment over his firing.

In a statement about the memos, the three Republican committee chairmen who had pressed for their release wrote that Mr. Comey never explicitly said in his memos that the president was trying to interfere in the Russia investigation.

“While former Director Comey went to great lengths to set dining room scenes, discuss height requirements, describe the multiple times he felt complimented, and myriad other extraneous facts, he never once mentioned the most relevant fact of all, which was whether he felt obstructed in his investigation,” they wrote.

Mr. Trump wrote in a tweet that the memos “show clearly that there was NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION.”

Some of the president’s most ardent Republican supporters acknowledged that the previously unreported details in the memos were not likely to emerge as important evidence to counter the narrative that Mr. Comey is offering publicly during his weekslong book tour.

Mr. Meadows and other Republican lawmakers seized on the memos, which were lightly redacted by the Justice Department before they were released, as proof that Mr. Comey had leaked classified information when he gave copies of some to a friend, with permission to read them to a reporter from The New York Times.

The Justice Department’s inspector general is conducting a review of the handling of classified information contained in Mr. Comey’s memos, according to a person briefed on the investigation. The inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, is expected to dedicate a section of a larger report about the F.B.I.’s decision-making in 2016 to the matter of Mr. Comey’s documents.

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Supporters of President Trump protesting outside a Barnes & Noble in Manhattan where Mr. Comey appeared as part of his book tour. Taken together, the memos largely back up the stories that Mr. Comey has shared elsewhere.

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Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Mr. Comey gave copies of at least two of his memos to Daniel C. Richman, a longtime associate outside the F.B.I. Some of the memos were later deemed to contain classified information. In one case, Mr. Comey had personally redacted such information before handing it to Mr. Richman, and in another, the F.B.I. deemed the material classified only after it was in Mr. Richman’s possession.

Mr. Comey has said he shared the memos with Mr. Richman under the assumption that they would be shared with the news media and to put pressure on the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to oversee the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation. The inspector general has questioned witnesses about the matter, and F.B.I. agents conducted a search of Mr. Richman’s New York office to ensure that the leak was contained.

The inspector general’s review was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

“This is a stain on James Comey’s judgment when it comes to law enforcement matters,” Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, said Friday afternoon on CNN. He said Mr. Comey’s decision to leak the memos to his friend “raises serious questions about his judgment and his integrity.”

The president himself continued his criticism late Friday night, writing on Twitter, “James Comey illegally leaked classified documents to the press in order to generate a Special Council?”

Democrats said on Friday that Republicans had failed in their efforts to discredit Mr. Comey’s assertions about the president’s private behavior. They predicted that the memos would help investigators piece together a case against Mr. Trump and his associates.

“The simple fact is they unquestionably show pressure by the president to stymie or stop the investigation, and so they are more evidence of attempts to obstruct justice,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut.

Mr. Blumenthal accused Republicans of trying — with little success — to twist the meaning of the memos.

“They are pretty much raw history, which people can spin to serve their partisan purposes,” he said.

Representative Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican of Pennsylvania who has criticized efforts to undermine the Russia investigation, said both sides were misguided if they thought the release of the full memos would affect the fundamentals of the case.

“There might be some salacious details here,” Mr. Dent said, “but nothing is changing the overall narrative on the Mueller investigation.”

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