President Donald Trump was furious the FBI chief wouldn’t publicly deny he was personally under investigation in connection to the Russia probe so he put it down on paper, writing an angry, rambling letter about why he didn’t want James Comey to stay on the job. The letter offered an “unvarnished view” of why Trump wanted to fire Comey, the New York Times was first to report. So unvarnished in fact that Donald McGahn II, the White house counsel, vociferously opposed sending the letter. Specifically McGahn wasn’t too fond of the way Trump mentioned private conversations he had with Comey.
A Wall Street Journal source paraphrased the contents of the letter: “You’ve told me three times I’m not under investigation but you won’t tell the world, and it’s hampering the country.” Trump wrote the letter with the assistance of senior aide Stephen Miller but it was never sent, although he did share it with several senior officials at the White House and Justice Department. The then deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, then drafted his own letter saying Comey was being fired for mishandling the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. The original multi-page draft letter originally also mentioned Comey’s investigation into Clinton as a reason for the firing, according to the Washington Post.
Now Mueller has the draft letter courtesy of the Justice Department. And it could turn out to be a key piece of evidence considering that Mueller is particularly interested in the events and thinking surrounding Comey’s firing. The way his lawyer was concerned by the letter suggests that at the very least there was concern that Trump’s reasoning could get him in hot water. And it at least helps explain why so many different reasons were put forward to explain the firing shortly after the fact.
Renato Mariotti, a defense attorney who was a former federal prosecutor, took to Twitter to explain why he thinks the advice from Trump’s lawyer “could be the most important evidence in Mueller’s obstruction case.” The key question, writes Mariotti, is what McGahn actually told Trump. If McGahn warned Trump that firing Comey for the reasons outlined in the letter would be illegal that “would be slam dunk evidence of a corrupt intent.” But if McGahn merely just expressed concern about the tone of the letter then that could actually help Trump’s case.