Anatomy of a Cover-Up

Yesterday I mentioned that, as we get additional pieces of the puzzle related to the Trump campaign and administration, it is important to place them into the bigger picture. Yesterday brought a couple of important items that would be helpful to put in context. So here is a timeline of what might be called “an attempted cover-up.”

September 8, 2016 – Then-Senator Sessions meets with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. Martin has already provided us with the details of what was going on around the time of that meeting. For these purposes, it is also significant to note that this is the same Russian official that Michael Flynn met with and lied about – which led to him being fired as Trump’s National Security Advisor. At the time of the meeting, both Flynn and Sessions served on Trump’s National Security Advisory Council.

March 1, 2017 – After lying about never having met with any Russian officials during his confirmation hearing, the Washington Post reports on Sessions’ meetings with Kislyak.

March 2, 2017 – As a result of the above revelation, AG Sessions recuses himself from the Justice Department probe into the 2016 election.

March 4, 2017 – It is widely reported that Trump is furious over the handling of the situation with Sessions and his recusal. As a result, he begins tweeting in his usual pattern of lie, distract and blame.

March 6-7, 2017 – Because those are extremely serious allegations from a sitting president against his predecessor, WH Press Secretary Sean Spicer is questioned about them. He says that the White House won’t comment and that the appropriate place for this to be adjudicated is in the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

March 10, 2017National Security Advisor McMaster re-assigns Ezra Cohen-Watnick – who had been serving as the National Security Council’s senior director for intelligence programs – due to concerns about him at the CIA.

March 14, 2017 – Following intervention on his behalf by Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, Trump reinstates Cohen-Watnick as the National Security Council’s senior director for intelligence programs.

March 15, 2017 – When Tucker Carlson asks Trump about his allegations regarding Obama and wiretapping, the president said, “I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.”

March 20, 2017 – The House Intelligence Committee holds its first hearing on their investigation into Russia’s involvement in the election and whether or not the Trump campaign was involved. FBI Director Comey affirms that there is a counter-intelligence investigation into these matters while both he and NSA Chief Rogers say that there is no evidence to support Trump’s claim that Obama wiretapped him.

March 21, 2017Rep. Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, has a clandestine meeting at the White House with Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Michael Ellis, an assistant White House counsel for national security affairs, during which they showed him classified information of electronic surveillance that swept in President Trump and his associates during the course of eavesdropping operations against foreign intelligence targets.

March 22, 2017Rep. Nunes announces to the press that he has seen intelligence reports that indicate Trump and his associates were included in electronic surveillance and that he is on his way to the White House to inform the president. We later learn that Nunes has not shared this information with other members of the Intelligence Committee.

March 23-24, 2017 – Both the president and right wing media insist that Trump has been vindicated.

March 30, 2017 – The NYT reports that it was Cohen-Watnick and Ellis who met with Nunes at the White House on March 21st. Michael Flynn asks for immunity in order to testify on possible Trump/Russia connections.

In addition to the timeline, it is important to note the connections between the players involved.

  • As I mentioned previously, Sessions and Flynn both served on Trump’s National Security Advisory Council during the campaign,
  • Back in November, the NYT noted that Rep. Devin Nunes was a “close confidant” to Michael Flynn.
  • Cohen-Watnick was brought to the White House by Michael Flynn.
  • Michael Ellis worked for Rep. Nunes on the House Intelligence Committee as its general counsel prior to taking a job at the White House.

All of that leads me to a very important question raised by Barton Gellman.

…why would a White House lawyer and the top White House intelligence adviser be requesting copies of these surveillance reports in the first place?…There is no chance that the FBI would brief them about the substance or progress of its investigation into the Trump campaign’s connections to the Russian government. Were the president’s men using the surveillance assets of the U.S. government to track the FBI investigation from the outside?

Stay tuned. If the answer to that turns out to be “yes,” we’ve reached the point in this investigation where the old Watergate adage applies, “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.”

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.