Written in Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation:

I hope you can let this go,” the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.

The existence of Mr. Trump’s request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia.

Mr. Comey wrote the memo detailing his conversation with the president immediately after the meeting, which took place the day after Mr. Flynn resigned, according to two people who read the memo. The memo was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation. An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.

Did Donald Trump break any laws by asking James Comey to end the Michael Flynn investigation?

  • Trump has the absolute power to pardon Flynn. That would end all this once and for all. Of course, the media would latch onto it and we would start hearing more about Nixon.
    – SDsolar
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 8:25

2 Answers 2


Trump might have broken the law regarding "obstruction of justice" according to Jimmy Gurulé, a professor of law at the University of Notre Dame who served as assistant attorney general for George H.W. Bush and undersecretary of the Treasury for enforcement under George W. Bush.

If President Trump asked then-FBI Director James Comey to drop the criminal investigation of General Michael Flynn, this would constitute obstruction of justice under 18 U.S.C. section 1505. Section 1505 makes it a crime to "endeavor to influence, obstruct, or impede" "any pending proceeding … before any department or agency of the United States." Obviously, Trump had knowledge that Flynn was the target of an FBI investigation. The FBI investigation was a "pending proceeding . . . before [a] department or agency of the United States." Further, if Trump had knowledge of a pending grand jury investigation targeting Flynn, his conduct would constitute an attempt to influence or obstruct a grand jury investigation. The FBI was an active participant in the grand jury investigation.

Also, 18 U.S.C. 1512(c)(2) punishes "Whoever corruptly . . . obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so." A violation of section 1512 imposes a maximum sentence of 20 years

(emphasis mine)

However, there are many other factors that decides whether "obstuction of justice" took place. We currently do not have a full picture of how this occurred and that the only source we have is a memo from Comey.

That being said, it's unlikely that Trump will be charged for it as Presidents usually cannot be criminally charged by normal prosecutors; the charges can only be brought about through the impeachment process initiated by Congress.

  • 3
    We also don't have a memo from Comey...yet. Although it may get subpoenaed soon.
    – discodane
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 17:07
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    I've been reading a lot lately about impeachment and one of the things that it's important to understand is that 'high crimes' is term that cannot be interpreted as normal English. You can't even understand it in standard legal contexts. It's specific to constitutional law. The president doesn't need to be guilty in the normal legal sense to have committed a high-crime. This article is a good read on the subject.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 15:26
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    @JimmyJames Impeachment is strictly a political process, not a legal one. A President need not have committed any crimes, only lost the confidence of his own party. It's really more like a vote of no confidence that Parliamentary systems use.
    – Machavity
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 15:40
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    @Machavity I'm sure that's 100% wrong. "The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." Article II Section 4 Impeachment is essentially the bringing of changes. If convicted, the defendant is removed from office and barred from serving in other offices and loses federal pensions. It is not simply a 'no confidence' vote.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 15:58
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    @Machavity The wikipedia page you reference on no confidence votes contains the following in the US section: "Impeachment is reserved for criminal conduct or major ethical violations and is not directly a vote of no confidence in the party, since removal of the head of government usually results in succession by an officer of the same party." Emphasis mine
    – JimmyJames
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 16:23

Probably not. It's important to remember that while Flynn might have been a part of the Russia probe in general, the Russia probe is what's called a counterintelligence investigation.

The FBI has been responsible for identifying and neutralizing ongoing national security threats from foreign intelligence services since 1917, nine years after the Bureau was created in 1908. The FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, which is housed within the National Security Branch, has gone through a lot of changes over the years, and throughout the Cold War the division changed its name several times. But foiling and countering the efforts of the Soviet Union and other communist nations remained the primary mission.

What's confusing here is that, when people hear the phrase FBI Investigation, they tend to think of criminal investigations. The Russia probe is trying to determine what the Russians did and why they did it. Michael Flynn has not been charged with anything criminal, nor are there any indications that he under any criminal investigation. Had Trump asked for a criminal investigation to be ended, that could easily qualify as Obstruction of Justice.

We already knew Trump disliked the Russia probe, and he has cited that as his reason to fire Comey. But since it's not a criminal investigation, it seems unlikely to rise to an Obstruction charge

Trump is said to have 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.”
Other than telling us that Comey replied, “I agree he is a good guy,” the Times provides no context of the conversation. Its report gives no indication of whether the memo provides such context.
On its face, the statement does not amount to obstruction of justice. Trump could be said to be putting pressure on his subordinate, just as Obama was putting pressure on his subordinates (Comey included) last April. But assuming the Times is right about the memo, Trump did not order Comey to drop the case. In fact, Trump’s statement is consistent with encouraging Comey to use his own judgment, with the understanding that Trump hoped Comey would come out favorably to Flynn.
But of course, also with the understanding that if Comey pushed to prosecute Flynn, the president — who had the power to fire Comey — was going to be very unhappy. Just as President Obama would have been very unhappy, and in a position to fire Comey, if Mrs. Clinton had been indicted.

  • Incorrect, IMO. It does not have to be a criminal investigation in order for it to be obstruction of justice. The definition, particularly "Obstructing Congressional or Administrative Proceedings" (18 U.S.C.1505) is massively broad and general. Commented May 18, 2017 at 15:06
  • @PoloHoleSet It could be, but is unlikely. Obama was not held to that standard. From the second link A cynic might say that Obama had clearly signaled to the FBI and the Justice Department that he did not want Mrs. Clinton to be charged with a crime, and that, with this not-so-subtle pressure in the air, the president’s subordinates dropped the case — exactly what Obama wanted, relying precisely on Obama’s stated rationale.. The verbiage here will be important (the quotes are literally a game of Telephone at this point)
    – Machavity
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 15:30
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    Sorry, but the "National Review" is not a credible source, since they generally start at the partisan conclusion they want and work backwards. As I said, there's nothing in the law that states obstruction has to be for criminal proceedings, alone. Some imaginary "Obama" standard for imaginary "signalling" an investigation into non-crimes does not enter into Trump explicitly asking Comey to end an investigation. That's a massive, massive stretch on your part, and it really puts the "false" into false equivalence. FBI was looking at Clinton to see if laws were broken. Period. None were. Commented May 18, 2017 at 15:53
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    @PoloHoleSet The Hill also disagrees with your assessment. As to NR, you're entitled to your opinion, but NR backs their stuff up pretty well (Andrew McCarthey is a former US Atty so he knows the code and relevant legal actions) and aren't Trump cronies. Remember, the NYT article here quotes a source reading a memo to them (over the phone) they've not even seen. So argue the merits. Attacking a solid source and ignoring their argument weakens your position.
    – Machavity
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 16:02
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    NYT isn't going to run a story based on a single unconfirmed source. Other news outlets have independently confirmed, so the pretense that NYT reporting is adhering to some sort of Breitbart standard only shows your own bias. I have argued the merits. I've cited the code, and there's nothing there that suggests it has to be interference with a criminal investigation to be obstruction of justice. The passage you cited cites no facts, just speculation of what an imaginary "cynic" might think about what they might think Obama was thinking. Yeah, that's "backing up their stuff." Not. Commented May 18, 2017 at 16:10

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