Donald Trump's personal request that the FBI drop its investigation into disgraced national security adviser Michael Flynn, if true, could see the President's fledgling administration already entering "impeachment territory".
That's according to a former adviser to three presidents, two of whom - Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton - faced impeachment proceedings.
Mr Trump's reported comments to then-FBI chief James Comey represent the most concerning conduct yet by the 45th president, according to David Gergen. It comes after a tumultuous week in which Mr Trump admitted he fired Mr Comey at least partially because of the investigation into his team's links to Russia, and after the President passed apparently classified secrets to senior Russian officials.
Accoridng to notes Mr Comey made after a February meeting with Mr Trump, the President told him: “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.” The memo was reported by US media, including the New York Times and CNN, on Tuesday evening.
The memo appeared to show Mr Trump “trying to impede the investigation” into alleged Russia links, according to Mr Gergen, who served as a top adviser to Presidents Clinton and Nixon, as well as to Ronald Reagan.
He told CNN: “After watching the Clinton impeachment, I thought I would never see another one. But I think we’re in impeachment territory for the first time.
”I think that the obstruction of justice was the number one charge against Nixon that brought him down.
“I'm a lapsed lawyer, I can not tell you if it meets all of the legal definitions, but I can tell you from a lay point of view, it looks like [Mr Trump] was trying to impede the investigation, he was using his power to do that, and when James Comey didn't go along with him, he wasn't his boy, he fired him, which I think is also relevant to the question of what he was trying to do.
“So, from my point of view, this is of enormous consequence for his presidency.”
Meanwhile, David Axelrod, Barack Obama's campaign manager and former adviser, tweeted: “I've been resistant to impeachment talk until now, but if Comey memo is true - and Comey is very credible - we are into a whole new deal here.
”If @POTUS told Comey 2 “close down” the Flynn investigation, as Comey memo alleges, it may well lead to the closing down of his presidency.“
The biggest names involved in the Trump-Russia investigation
The biggest names involved in the Trump-Russia investigation
1/11 Paul Manafort
Mr Manafort is a Republican strategist and former Trump campaign manager. He resigned from that post over questions about his extensive lobbying overseas, including in Ukraine where he represented pro-Russian interests.
2/11 Mike Flynn
Mr Flynn was named as Trump's national security adviser but was forced to resign from his post for inappropriate communication with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. He had misrepresented a conversation he had with Mr Kislyak to Vice President Mike Pence, telling him wrongly that he had not discussed sanctions with the Russian.
3/11 Sergey Kislyak
Mr Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US, is at the centre of the web said to connect President Donald Trump's campaign with Russia.
4/11 Roger Stone
Mr Stone is a former Trump adviser who worked on the political campaigns of Richard Nixon, George HW Bush, and Ronald Reagan. Mr Stone claimed repeatedly in the final months of the campaign that he had backchannel communications with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and that he knew the group was going to dump damaging documents to the campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton - which did happen. Mr Stone also had contacts with the hacker Guccier 2.0 on Twitter, who claimed to have hacked the DNC and is linked to Russian intelligence services.
5/11 Jeff Sessions
The US attorney general was forced to recuse himself from the Trump-Russia investigation after it was learned that he had lied about meeting with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
6/11 Carter Page
Mr Page is a former advisor to the Trump campaign and has a background working as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch. Mr Page met with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Mr Page had invested in oil companies connected to Russia and had admitted that US Russia sanctions had hurt his bottom line.
7/11 Jeffrey "JD" Gorden
Mr Gordon met with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 Republian National Convention to discuss how the US and Russia could work together to combat Islamist extremism should then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump win the election. The meeting came days before a massive leak of DNC emails that has been connected to Russia.
8/11 Jared Kushner
Mr Kushner is President Donald Trump's son-in-law and a key adviser to the White House. He met with a Russian banker appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in December. Mr Kushner has said he did so in his role as an adviser to Mr Trump while the bank says he did so as a private developer. Mr Kushner has also volunteered to testify in the Senate about his role helping to arrange meetings between Trump advisers and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
9/11 James Comey
Mr Comey was fired from his post as head of the FBI by President Donald Trump. The timing of Mr Comey's firing raised questions around whether or not the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign may have played a role in the decision.
10/11 Preet Bharara
Mr Bahara refused, alongside 46 other US district attorney's across the country, to resign once President Donald Trump took office after previous assurances from Mr Trump that he would keep his job. Mr Bahara had been heading up several investigations including one into one of President Donald Trump's favorite cable television channels Fox News. Several investigations would lead back to that district, too, including those into Mr Trump's campaign ties to Russia, and Mr Trump's assertion that Trump Tower was wiretapped on orders from his predecessor.
11/11 Sally Yates
Ms Yates, a former Deputy Attorney General, was running the Justice Department while President Donald Trump's pick for attorney general awaited confirmation. Ms Yates was later fired by Mr Trump from her temporary post over her refusal to implement Mr Trump's first travel ban. She had also warned the White House about potential ties former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to Russia after discovering those ties during the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign's connections to Russia.
“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,” the White House said.
“The President has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”
Mr Comey's memo, an apparent effort to create a paper trail of his contacts with the White House, would be the clearest evidence to date that the President has tried to influence the Russia investigation.
Rep Jason Chaffetz, Republican chairman of the House oversight committee, sent a letter to the FBI on Tuesday requesting that it turn over all documents and recordings that detail communications between Mr Comey and Mr Trump. He said he would give the FBI a week and then "if we need a subpoena, we'll do it."
The panel's top Democrat, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, a constant Trump critic, called the allegation of White House pressure on Mr Comey "explosive" and said "it appears like a textbook case of criminal obstruction of justice."
John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said late Tuesday that the developments had reached "Watergate size and scale."
Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate, said simply, "It would be helpful to have less drama emanating from the White House."
The White House vigorously denied it all. "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," a statement said.
Mr Trump fired General Flynn on 13 February on grounds that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about his contacts with Russians.
Additional reporting by agenciesReuse content