CNN’s claiming Democratic and Republican sources for this, but even if it’s gospel truth, I can’t imagine it’ll do Trump any (further) damage on Russiagate. WaPo first reported a few weeks ago that he asked DNI Dan Coats and NSA chief Mike Rogers to intervene with Comey to try to get the FBI to back off its Russia investigation. The idea that the president might have tried to enlist one part of the intelligence community to slow down a federal probe being conducted by another part is a serious charge.
But CNN doesn’t repeat that charge. They claim that Coats and Rogers told Bob Mueller and the Senate Intel Committee behind closed doors (after their famous public testimony) that Trump asked them only to speak up publicly and affirm that there’s no evidence that he personally colluded with Russia. If you strain hard, you can try to stretch that into some sort of obstruction ploy — Comey had refused to clear Trump publicly, after all, because the FBI investigation was still ongoing — but no average voter is going to fault Trump for feeling exasperated that his deputies wouldn’t lift the cloud of suspicion over him if they had reason to believe he’s been falsely accused. If they thought that he had colluded and then he asked him to lie and say that he hadn’t, obviously that would be a different matter. But if all he was asking was for them to tell the exculpatory truth — and if it really was a request, not a direct order — then what’s the red-letter scandal in his interactions with Coats and Rogers?
Coats and Rogers also met individually last week with the Senate intelligence committee in two closed briefings that were described to CNN by Democratic and Republican congressional sources. One source said that Trump wanted them to say publicly what then-FBI Director James Comey had told the President privately: that he was not under investigation for collusion. However, sources said that neither Coats nor Rogers raised concerns that Trump was pushing them to do something they did not want to do. They did not act on the President’s alleged suggestion…
One congressional source expressed frustration that Coats and Rogers didn’t answer the questions in public, especially since what they ended up expressing in private was that they did not feel that the President pressured either of them to do anything improper.
Rogers’ interaction with the President is also documented in a memo written by his deputy at the NSA, Richard Ledgett.
Coats and Rogers each found Trump’s request “odd and uncomfortable,” in CNN’s words, but evidently neither believed he crossed a line. And there’s no claim here that he ordered or even asked them to lean on Comey on his behalf. He wanted them to clear his name after having been told repeatedly by Comey that he wasn’t personally a target of the FBI investigation. That may not have been proper protocol but everyone can sympathize with the impulse.
By the way, tomorrow’s the deadline for the White House to turn over any Oval Office recordings of Trump and Comey. If Trump ignores it, what’s the House Intel Committee’s next move?
[E]ven with a subpoena, the panel stands little chance of actually compelling Trump to turn over anything he doesn’t voluntarily want to produce, according to legal experts, setting lawmakers up for a high-stakes choice: Let it go, and look like they are giving the president a pass; or pursue the subpoena, and risk exposing the legislative branch’s weakness in the midst of a historic probe of the president…
There are exemptions for federal officials claiming executive privilege on behalf of the president — and no figure in the White House is closer to the president than than the president himself. Congress can try to circumvent that hurdle by passing what is known as a “contempt” resolution ordering the matter to a court — but against a Republican president, that is a tall order in a GOP-led Congress.
The best-case scenario for the Committee is that they somehow get Paul Ryan to go along with a contempt resolution and the court battle over whether executive privilege entitles Trump to withhold any recordings drags on for years. That is to say, this is less a matter of squeezing evidence out of Trump than it is a test of Republican loyalty to the president. Will they challenge him by issuing a subpoena, knowing that if they “win” in court, the audio could further damage Trump’s presidency and their own electoral chances, or will they roll over by refusing to issue a subpoena, leaving potential evidence of obstruction untouched? There’s going to be a court fight over the tapes between Mueller and the White House eventually, I assume. Maybe that’ll be the House GOP’s “out”: “If Mueller’s going to take this on, why do we have to get in the middle of it?”
The likeliest outcome here, actually, will be the White House declaring tomorrow that there are no “tapes” of Trump and Comey. Newt Gingrich hinted to the AP in an interview that he thinks Trump’s tweet about Oval Office tapes was a bluff, designed to rattle a political enemy much as Trump’s foray into Birtherism was designed to rattle Obama. We’ll see.