Officials in President Donald Trump‘s administration have expressed despair after a series of scandals rocked the White House.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday the President had asked former FBI Director James Comey to end an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn during an Oval Office visit in February.
The newspaper said Mr Comey recorded the conversation in a memo written shortly afterwards.
The existence of the memo is the latest piece of evidence to suggest Mr Trump attempted to shut down investigations into his campaign’s dealings with the Russian government during the 2016 election.
The article came the day after it was reported Mr Trump had spontaneously revealed highly classified intelligence from a US ally to the Russian foreign minister.
“I don’t see how Trump isn’t completely f*****,” one senior official in Mr Trump’s administration reportedly told The Daily Beast.
Another told the publication they felt “like running down the hallway with a fire extinguisher” in response to the leaked memo.
The FBI and Justice Department declined to comment on the memo’s existence on Tuesday. The White House disputed the account.
The conversation is said to have occurred weeks after the FBI interviewed Lt Gen Flynn regarding his contacts with the Russian ambassador and after the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, warned the White House that Lt Gen Flynn had misled them about those conversations and could be vulnerable to blackmail.
Mr Flynn was forced to resign on 13 February after reports of the conversation between Ms Yates and officials in the White House.
The reports of Mr Trump’s request to Mr Comey renewed concerns from congressional Democrats about Mr Trump’s links to Russia.
“We are witnessing an obstruction of justice case unfolding in real time,” Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Judiciary Committee member and former federal prosecutor, said in a statement. He called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate.
Some Republicans also called for action, asking Mr Comey to speak to Congress and demanding that any memos or recordings of his conversations with the president be presented to them.
Mr Comey, appointed as FBI director in 2013 by President Barack Obama, spoke often about his desire to be as transparent as possible about FBI actions and about proving to the public that his agency was independent, competent and thorough.
“We’re not on anybody’s side, ever,” he said in a March speech. “We’re not considering whose ox will be gored by this action or that action, whose fortunes will be helped by this or that — we just don’t care and we can’t care.”
He riled administrations of both parties with his moral certitude and decisions that critics said strayed from ordinary protocol, such as his public announcement — without the involvement of the Justice Department — that the FBI would not recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for her email use.
Testifying before Congress is familiar to Mr Comey, a former Justice Department official in the George W Bush administration.
As FBI director, he was accustomed to hours-long oversight hearings before Congress, including one a week before his firing. In 2007, he recounted to a rapt congressional audience the dramatic hospital room clash three years earlier with Bush officials over the approval of a domestic surveillance program.
Mr Comey was abruptly fired on 9 May, learning of the dismissal as he was giving a talk in Los Angeles. While the White House initially cited a Justice Department recommendation and Mr Comey’s very public handling of the Clinton email investigation as reasons, those explanations quickly shifted.
Mr Trump later admitted in a television interview about Mr Comey that he was bothered by “this Russia thing” and said he would have sacked him regardless of the Justice Department recommendation. He also tweeted a veiled threat warning the ex-director against leaking information.
Soon after the firing, an associate of Mr Comey told the Associated Press that the former FBI director recounted being asked by Mr Trump at a January dinner if he would pledge his loyalty. The White House has denied that report.
After Tuesday’s revelation, the White House said in a statement, “While the President has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the President has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn.”
There is no sign the FBI’s Russia investigation is closing. Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe told Congress last week the investigation is “highly significant” and said Mr Comey’s dismissal would do nothing to impede it.
Associated Press contributed to this report