The moment James Comey let slip that he had written “contemporaneous notes” detailing his dealings with President Donald Trump, those memos became the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Prosecutors perused them, members of Congress demanded them and the public speculated about them.
In the end, The Associated Press got them.
Thanks to the resourceful reporting of the Washington bureau’s Mary Clare Jalonick, Chad Day, Tom LoBianco and Eric Tucker, the AP was the first news organization to publish the contents of those 15 pages of notes. And that major scoop is the Beat of the Week.
Trump fired Comey as FBI director almost a year ago, in May 2017. A week later, it was revealed that he had kept written accounts of his interactions with Trump because, he would say, he “knew there might come a day when I would need a record of what had happened" to defend both himself and the FBI.
The memos quickly became fodder for special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections as it related to possible collusion with the Trump campaign – and in particular, whether the president sought to obstruct justice. House Republicans, criticizing the Justice Department, threatened to subpoena the documents.
On the afternoon of April 19, AP reported that the DOJ was providing the memos to Congress. Jalonick, Day and Tucker checked in with their sources to make sure they would get them as soon as possible after they were transmitted, and they all made plans to work that night to be ready to scour the papers for any new details.
Jalonick got them first, from a source she had known for years. She called in the first in a series of alerts, and the others came fast and furious: Trump had serious concerns about the judgment of Michael Flynn, the former White House national security adviser. Trump said Russian leader Vladimir Putin boasted that his country had “some of the most beautiful hookers in the world."
LoBianco jumped in, read memos and took care of the Latest updates. Day posted the documents in full and fed details to Tucker, who wrote the story.
Hours would pass before any other organization matched the AP story. Cable networks broke in and cited AP by name – “AP Obtains Memos Drafted by James Comey,” read the chyron on MSNBC – and the Los Angeles Times sent out a push alert to its customers, saying, “Associated Press Publishes Comey Memos on Interactions With Trump." Though the story was published late in the day, AP’s coverage scored multiple front pages across the country.
The team’s work continued the next day, as AP reported that Putin was the unidentified world leader who had called to offer Trump his congratulations after his inauguration – Flynn’s failure to inform Trump of the call infuriated the president. Also, they reported that Trump and Comey had bonded over a crude joke and coarse language about cracking down on leakers and jailed journalists.
“It was a great scoop by Mary Clare and the teamwork that followed kept us way out ahead,” said Elizabeth Kennedy, deputy Washington bureau chief.
For that teamwork – and for breaking major news in the continuing story of the investigations into the Trump presidency – Jalonick, Day, LoBianco and Tucker share this week’s Beat of the Week award.