Special Counsel Robert Mueller is now investigating whether or not the president attempted to obstruct justice. That’s the word from unnamed sources who spoke to the Washington Post:
The move by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III to investigate Trump’s own conduct marks a major turning point in the nearly year-old FBI investigation, which until recently focused on Russian meddling during the presidential campaign and on whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Investigators have also been looking for any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates, officials said.
Trump had received private assurances from former FBI Director James B. Comey starting in January that he was not personally under investigation. Officials say that changed shortly after Comey’s firing.
Five people briefed on the requests, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said Daniel Coats, the current director of national intelligence, Adm. Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, and Rogers’ recently departed deputy, Richard Ledgett, agreed to be interviewed by Mueller’s investigators as early as this week. The investigation has been cloaked in secrecy and it’s unclear how many others have been questioned by the FBI.
One focus of Mueller’s interest is a conversation Trump had with newly installed DNI Dan Coats in March. Here’s how the Post reported that exchange just over a week ago:
The nation’s top intelligence official told associates in March that President Trump asked him if he could intervene with then-FBI Director James B. Comey to get the bureau to back off its focus on former national security adviser Michael Flynn in its Russia probe, according to officials.
On March 22, less than a week after being confirmed by the Senate, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats attended a briefing at the White House together with officials from several government agencies. As the briefing was wrapping up, Trump asked everyone to leave the room except for Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
The president then started complaining about the FBI investigation and Comey’s handling of it, said officials familiar with the account Coats gave to associates.
This meeting was a topic of interest when Coats testified before Congress last week. Prompted by Senator Warner about Trump’s apparent interest in the Flynn investigation, DNI Coats replied that he had “never felt pressured intervene or interfere in any way…in relationship to an ongoing investigation.” Here’s the clip:
Could Mueller find that Trump was obstructing justice if a) no action was taken by Coats and b) Coats says he felt no pressure to take action? That’s a question I’ll leave to the lawyers (on this site and elsewhere).
Finally, the other conversation which will obviously be of interest to Mueller is the one Trump had with Comey in the Oval Office. Comey says Trump asked him to let the investigation into Michael Flynn go. Supposedly, there is a memo to back this up this recollection. That combined with Comey’s subsequent firing, which Trump said later was not about Comey’s treatment of the Clinton email investigation but about the Russia probe, seems like the main line of argument if you want to claim obstruction took place.
But don’t forget, according to Comey’s own testimony, Trump also said he would be happy to see the investigation go forward even if some “satellite” associates of his were shown to have done something wrong. That was on a phone call after the Oval Office discussion about Flynn. So it didn’t sound as if Trump was trying to stop the Russia investigation at that point.