The 15-page memo released to Congress offer new details about a series of interactions that former FBI director James Comey had with US President Donald Trump in the weeks before his May 2017 firing.
US President Donald Trump repeatedly complained to former FBI director James Comey in early 2017 that the Russia meddling investigation was a cloud over his young administration, weeks before firing him, leaked memorandums showed on Thursday.
Trump "said he was trying to run the country and the cloud of this Russia business was making that difficult," Comey wrote in a memo on a conversation they had on March 30, 2017.
Eleven days later, Trump again pressed Comey about the issue. The president told Comey that "he is trying to do work for the country, visit with foreign leaders, and any cloud, even a little cloud, gets in the way of that," Comey wrote, referring to "the Russia thing."
The memos, which Comey wrote immediately after several meetings with Trump in the weeks after his inauguration on January 20, 2017, depict a president deeply worried about the impact of the probe into Russian meddling in the election the previous year.
Obtained by AFP news agency on Thursday after the Justice Department released them to Congress, the memos could become evidence in a criminal investigation into whether Trump consciously tried to obstruct the probe.
Comey makes clear in his memos that he was uncomfortable with the pressure and that it was not completely proper, though at the time he did not allege the president had broken any laws.
But Comey never committed to easing off the investigation, which continues to examine a number of suspicious contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.
On Friday, Trump claimed vindication, after the release of memos, in a tweet.
Trump said the memos "'show clearly that there was no collusion and no obstruction."
It's not clear what in the memos led the president to reach the conclusion.
Trump also accused Comey of having leaked classified information, though the Justice Department says the memos it provided to Congress were in unclassified form.
Trump ended his tweet by saying, "WOW! Will the Witch Hunt continue?"
James Comey Memos just out and show clearly that there was NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION. Also, he leaked classified information. WOW! Will the Witch Hunt continue?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 20, 2018
Focus on Russia probe
Weeks after their last conversation, on May 9, Trump fired Comey, saying in an interview two days later that he decided to dismiss the FBI chief in part out of unhappiness over the Russia probe.
"In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, you know, this thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election."
"In my opinion, it should've been over with a long time ago."
Much of what is in the memos, most notably Trump's demand that Comey pledge his loyalty, has been known for nearly a year.
Russia denies any meddling in the election.
Comey wrote that the president repeatedly raised the still-unconfirmed story that Russians have a video of him with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel.
"The president said 'this hookers thing' is nonsense," Comey wrote.
However, Trump also said "that Putin had told him, 'We have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world,'" Comey noted.
The memos also describe a dinner Comey and Trump had at the White House about a week after the inauguration, where Comey said Trump told him he expected loyalty from him.
Trump compared to mob boss
Much of the memo's contents were included in a book by Comey titled A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership and published this week in which he compares the Republican president to a mob boss who stresses personal loyalty over the law and has little regard for morality or truth.
In one memo, Comey recounts a February 8, 2017, meeting with then-White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, about two weeks after acting Attorney General Sally Yates had warned the White House that Michael Flynn, then Trump's national security adviser, had lied about his December 2016 conversation with the Russian ambassador to the United States.
Comey wrote in the memo that Priebus asked "if this was a 'private conversation.'" Priebus then asked: "Do you have a FISA order on Mike Flynn?" referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, according to the memo.
At the White House dinner in January, Comey said Trump told him that Flynn "has serious judgment issues." Comey said Trump's comment came after he learned there was a delay in returning a congratulatory phone call from a foreign leader.
According to a memo in mid-February, Priebus requested that Comey and other senior FBI officials "publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump's associates and Russians known to U.S. intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign."
They declined to do so.
Memos critical part of probe
The 15 pages of documents contain new details about a series of interactions with Trump that Comey found so unnerving that he chose to document them in writing.
The documents had been eagerly anticipated since their existence was first revealed last year, especially since Comey's interactions with Trump are a critical part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into whether the president sought to obstruct justice.
In explaining the purpose of creating the memos, which have been provided to Mueller, Comey has said he "knew there might come a day when I would need a record of what had happened" to defend not only himself but the FBI as well.