Trump Should Decide If We’re to Believe Trey Gowdy or Not

This is kind of amazing for a couple of reasons:

In morning tweets, Trump quoted Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who during a Wednesday morning television interview on CBS voiced sympathy for Trump’s past expressions of frustration with Sessions’s recusal from the inquiry.

“If I were the president and I picked someone to be the country’s chief law enforcement officer, and they told me later, ‘Oh by the way, I’m not going to be able to participate in the most important case in the office,’ I would be frustrated too,” Gowdy said, according to Trump’s tweets. “There are lots of really good lawyers in the country, he could have picked somebody else!”

After that, Trump added, in his own voice: “And I wish I did!”

What Trey Gowdy didn’t explicitly say was that “the most important case in the office” of the U.S. attorney general is a criminal inquiry into the president’s possible collusion with a hostile foreign power. But Trump didn’t dispute that this is, in fact, the true state of affairs.

The reason Trump is upset about Sessions recusing himself is because he expected that his attorney general would help obstruct an investigation of his own behavior. Every single time that Trump complains about Sessions in this context, he’s building an obstruction of justice case against himself. The reporting from the New York Times about this is crystal clear.

Special Counsel Bob Mueller has been focused like a laser on Trump’s treatment of his attorney general. And what he’s seeking to prove is that Trump did not want to fire Sessions for any other reason than his failure to help him avoid legal scrutiny. Mueller is looking carefully at a trip Sessions made to Mar-a-Lago in March 2017 to discuss the president’s faltering travel ban.

When they met, Mr. Trump was ready to talk — but not about the travel ban. His grievance was with Mr. Sessions: The president objected to his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Mr. Trump, who had told aides that he needed a loyalist overseeing the inquiry, berated Mr. Sessions and told him he should reverse his decision, an unusual and potentially inappropriate request.

Mr. Sessions refused.

The confrontation, which has not been previously reported, is being investigated by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, as are the president’s public and private attacks on Mr. Sessions and efforts to get him to resign. Mr. Trump dwelled on the recusal for months, according to confidants and current and former administration officials who described his behavior toward the attorney general.

The special counsel’s interest demonstrates Mr. Sessions’s overlooked role as a key witness in the investigation into whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct the inquiry itself. It also suggests that the obstruction investigation is broader than it is widely understood to be — encompassing not only the president’s interactions with and firing of the former F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, but also his relationship with Mr. Sessions.

One reason this is important is that it shows that Trump went beyond being upset that Sessions didn’t disclose that, if confirmed, he might have to recuse himself from the investigation. Neglecting to tell the president about his conflicts of interest would indeed be a reason for Trump to be displeased, simply because Sessions wasn’t forthright during the vetting process. But, even after Sessions recused himself, the president asked him to reverse course so that he could be in position to obstruct justice. And he asked this knowing that Sessions was following the advice of Justice Department ethicists. Trump could try to argue that he had legitimate cause to want to fire Sessions because Sessions had withheld important information from him, like the fact that he had met privately during the campaign with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. But that defense is undercut completely by the fact that Trump was initially more interested in Sessions reversing his recusal decision than in firing him.

Trump subsequently railed against Sessions publicly and privately, and Mueller has questioned many witnesses to his private actions in this matter. Reince Priebus testified about Trump’s directive that he fire Sessions and also about an incident where he talked Sessions into rescinding a letter of resignation. All of this is to build a case which has been made in plane sight. The president has never really disguised the fact that he is angry at Sessions for not killing an investigation that has both criminal and counterintelligence implications for himself.

It’s also ironic that Trump would approvingly cite Trey Gowdy when Trey Gowdy had just completely destroyed his Spygate conspiracy theory on Fox News of all places.

Gowdy is best known for beating the Benghazi tragedy like a dead horse with his interminable congressional investigation. He was one of the few members of Congress invited to see classified information about FBI confidential source Stefan Halper, the alleged “spy” that the FBI used to “infiltrate” Trump’s campaign. After seeing the evidence, however, Gowdy said that not only was the president’s theory complete bullshit but that the president should be quite happy with how the FBI acted because he explicitly asked them to act that way.

Outgoing Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the House Oversight Committee chairman and a Trump supporter, said in an interview on Fox that the FBI was justified in using a secret informant to assist in the Russia investigation. Gowdy, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, attended a classified Justice Department briefing last week on the FBI’s use of the confidential source, identified as Stefan A. Halper.

“President Trump himself in the Comey memos said if anyone connected with my campaign was working with Russia, I want you to investigate it, and it sounds to me like that is exactly what the FBI did,” Gowdy told host Martha MacCallum. “I think when the president finds out what happened, he is going to be not just fine, he is going to be glad that we have an FBI that took seriously what they heard.

Despite this, Trump was treating Gowdy in a different context as a credible source.

Like I said, “Amazing.”

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.