White House Staffers Are the Source of Leaks to the New York Times

The big news of the day on the Trump-Russia investigation comes from an article by Michael Schmidt in the New York Times. It fills in the blanks on some of what happened at the White House in the lead-up to Sessions’ recusal and the firing of James Comey.

There is one thing to keep in mind about this new information. Here is how Schmidt described his sources:

The accounts of the episodes are based on documents reviewed by The Times, as well as interviews with White House officials and others briefed on the investigation.

With that in mind, reading the accounts described by Schmidt reinforces the idea that he has sources for this material who either work in the White House right now or did so previously, and someone gave him information that hadn’t previously been reported:

  • Trump tasked White House counsel McGahn with talking Sessions out of recusing himself,
  • Trump talked to Priebus about how he had called Mr. Comey to urge him to say publicly that he was not under investigation,
  • Four days before Comey was fired, Sessions’s aides asked a congressional staff member whether he had damaging information about Mr. Comey, part of an apparent effort to undermine the F.B.I. director.

All of that falls under the larger question of whether or not the president attempted to obstruct justice. Here is how Schmidt summarized it:

Legal experts said that of the two primary issues Mr. Mueller appears to be investigating — whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice while in office and whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia — there is currently a larger body of public evidence tying the president to a possible crime of obstruction.

But the experts are divided about whether the accumulated evidence is enough for Mr. Mueller to bring an obstruction case.

The fallacy of that conclusion is that Schmidt doesn’t have access to everything Mueller knows. Nowhere in this report does it appear that he has a source from inside the investigation. Note that he refers to “a larger body of public evidence” related to obstruction. The accounts contained in this article come primarily from administration sources and we don’t know anything about their motives for talking to Schmidt.

As we’ve seen over the last few months, Mueller is running a tight ship and most of what we know about his investigation has come in the form of actual indictments and court documents. It would be unwise to draw any conclusions about the focus or outcome of this investigation based on reports of “public evidence” that primarily comes from the White House.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.