We Know That President Trump Has Obstructed Justice

It doesn’t surprise me in the least that the Office of the Special Counsel is looking carefully at President Trump’s tweets for evidence that he has obstructed their investigation. And I suppose it’s difficult to prove intent in a traditional jury trial, let alone a trial that will be conducted in the U.S. Senate and probably require a vote to convict from well more than a dozen Republican officeholders. My problem isn’t with the Mueller team’s thoroughness and attention to detail. My problem is the idea that the case for obstruction is not already considered as proven beyond any reasonable doubt.

Just one single solitary fact should suffice. Trump has admitted that he would not have nominated Jeff Sessions as attorney general if he had known that Sessions would recuse himself.  His fury toward Sessions was entirely related to his belief that Sessions could have and would have obstructed the investigation for him. All the tweets and threats, the rescinded order to fire Sessions, the attacks on his deputy Rod Rosenstein, the firing of James Comey and the demonization of Comey’s deputy, Andrew McCabe, etc., have been efforts to gain control of an investigation in order to thwart it.

Imagine if Jeff Sessions had never met with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in his Senate office and failed to disclose that fact during his confirmation hearings. Imagine if Sessions had not been a major part of the Trump campaign and had no reason to recuse himself. How would Trump feel and how would he have reacted if Sessions had appointed a special counsel to lead the investigation?

He would have seen that as a much bigger betrayal than mere recusal.

It’s Trump’s public statements and known actions with respect to his attorney general that make it as clear as anything ever could be that he wanted to stop the investigation in its tracks and has not been able to accomplish that goal.

There is a lot more evidence available to make an obstruction charge airtight, but to me it’s all superfluous. Trump  has tried to obstruct the investigation even as he has felt compelled to cooperate with it.

If the Sessions evidence is not enough for you, then what he said to Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and  Kislyak in the Oval Office should close the deal. Here’s what he announced to the Russians on May 10, 2017, the day after he fired James Comey as FBI director.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off. I’m not under investigation.”

That is a confession. He fired Comey because he was being investigated over his ties to Russia. Now that Comey has been eliminated, he is no longer under investigation. He said it. There’s a transcript. That’s obstruction of justice.

Considering the audience, it’s also pretty strong evidence of collusion. Why were the Russians invited into the Oval Office the day after Comey was fired? Last week at the Aspen Security Forum, journalist Andrea Mitchell questioned the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats about that meeting.

Trump’s intelligence chief added that he didn’t know about the president’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office beforehand — the meeting where Trump reportedly told them, “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off. I’m not under investigation.”

MITCHELL: It occurred to me: Did you know beforehand that Kislyak and Lavrov, the ambassador and the foreign minister, were going into the Oval Office that day?

COATS: I did not.

MITCHELL: What was your reaction afterward?

COATS: Probably not the best thing to do.

In the ordinary course of events, the president doesn’t hold meetings with foreign ministers and ambassadors without the foreknowledge of the Director of National Intelligence. Trump fired Comey and then immediately summoned the Russians to the White House to let them know that the pressure was off and he was no longer under investigation.

In other words, he told the Russian foreign minister and ambassador that he thought he had succeeded in obstructing justice.

So, I don’t think we need a close examination of tweets or even a personal interview to make the case. We just need some Republicans to face reality and summon a little courage.

Martin Longman

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