President Donald Trump now finds himself exactly where he doesn’t want to be: under investigation by a dogged, highly respected prosecutor who owes him no personal or political loyalty. And the president has only himself to blame.
Trump let off some steam Thursday morning by issuing a couple of angry statements on Twitter: “They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice.” And then: “You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history – led by some very bad and conflicted people!”
Not for the first time, Trump gives a false impression of what’s really going on. He pretends there has already been a finding that there was no collusion between anyone involved in his presidential campaign and the Russian attempt to meddle in our election. No such conclusion has been reached.
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To the contrary: Thanks to The Washington Post, we now know that collusion is only one of three subject areas that the FBI investigation, now led by special counsel Robert Mueller, is exploring.
Another is, indeed, the possibility that Trump may have obstructed justice in his repeated efforts to quash the investigation. How could any prosecutor fail to pursue this line of inquiry?
Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, sent out spokespeople and surrogates with a far-fetched cover story to explain the dismissal, and then told NBC’s Lester Holt that the real reason for the firing was Comey’s pursuit of the Russia investigation. Trump also bragged to visiting Russian diplomats that getting rid of Comey relieved him of “great pressure because of Russia.”
Those very public actions and statements alone cry out for investigation. But Comey has testified under oath that in a private meeting, Trump raised the investigation of fired national security adviser Michael Flynn – part of the larger Russia probe – and said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Comey said he took this “hope,” coming from the president of the United States, as a direction.
Trump also reportedly asked Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo to intercede with Comey on the Flynn case, then later asked Coats and National Security Agency chief Mike Rogers to state publicly that Trump was not personally under investigation. Apparently, none of the officials complied with these requests.
In sworn testimony on Capitol Hill, Coats and Rogers declined to speak about their conversations with the president – though it is doubtful they had any legal right to keep mum. According to the Post, Mueller plans to interview both officials soon, and also plans to question Richard Ledgett, who until recently held the No. 2 job at the NSA.
To me, this looks, walks and quacks like a pattern. Perhaps it does to Mueller as well.
Finally, we know that Mueller’s investigators are also looking for “any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates,” as the Post phrased it. It goes without saying that discovering any money flows between Trump campaign officials or advisers and Russian government-linked individuals or institutions would be explosive. That is why investigators want to know more about a meeting between Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and executives of Vnesheconombank, a Russian state-owned development bank now under U.S. sanctions.
Those are the prongs of the investigation – that we know of. Attention is focused on the question of obstruction simply because so much of Trump’s campaign to deep-six the investigation has been conducted openly, at full volume. I don’t know whether the FBI and Mueller’s crack team of prosecutors have any solid evidence of collusion or shady financial deals. If they find none, I’m certain Mueller will forthrightly report that fact – but only after completing a proper investigation, which takes time.
Other presidents have managed to compartmentalize investigations and go about the business of governing, but Trump seems consumed by the Mueller probe. His tweet about a “WITCH HUNT” conducted by “bad” people is just a Trumpian version of what appears to be the official White House line – that this is somehow a partisan attempt to delegitimize the Trump presidency.
But it is not. As Trump still struggles to acknowledge, the U.S. intelligence community is fully convinced that Russia carried out an attack on our democracy. We need to know what happened so that we can ensure it never happens again. Why would the president object to a thorough investigation – unless he had something to hide?
Eugene Robinson’s email address is email@example.com.