Friday, June 16, 2017

A "presidency in peril"

Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post) reports how The criminal investigation of Trump puts his presidency in peril.

Former FBI director James B. Comey, in his testimony last week, quite clearly was laying the factual predicate for a possible obstruction charge — detailing Trump’s efforts to persuade Comey to drop the investigation of Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, and when that did not work, firing Comey with a false pretextual explanation.

The president and his surrogates are already on the warpath, falsely suggesting that Comey engaged in improper or illegal conduct in leaking his memos and, putting out the line via Kellyanne Conway, that members of Mueller’s legal team had given to Democratic politicians (and therefore were biased). None of that will prove successful, in large part because there reportedly are a parade of other witnesses. (“Daniel Coats, the current director of national intelligence, Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, and Rogers’s recently departed deputy, Richard Ledgett, agreed to be interviewed by Mueller’s investigators as early as this week.”) These witnesses are likely to provide an account not unlike Comey’s in which the president wanted them to interfere with Comey’s Russia investigation.

But there are other foci of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation. Follow the money!

The addition to Mueller’s team of a prosecutor including Andrew Weissmann, Supreme Court advocate and criminal law expert Michael Dreeben, and others experienced in complex fraud and international bribery cases suggests that the probe may be looking at more than “collusion” between Russian officials and Trump team members. For example, “it appears he has recruited an experienced Justice Department trial attorney, Lisa Page, a little-known figure outside the halls of Main Justice but one whose résumé boasts intriguing hints about where Mueller’s Russia investigation might lead. Page has deep experience with money laundering and organized crime cases, including investigations where she’s partnered with an FBI task force in Budapest, Hungary, that focuses on eastern European organized crime. That Budapest task force helped put together the still-unfolding money laundering case against Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash, a one-time business partner of [Paul] Manafort.”) News reports speculate that Mueller could be investigating potential money-laundering by Trump team members.

It bears repeating that only Mueller and his team know the exact contours of an investigation. A counterintelligence inquiry into Russian interference now extends — as these things inevitably do — to possible financial dealings of Trump and his associates and possible “procedural” crimes (e.g. obstruction, perjury, lying to the FBI). The president might want to consider finding an actual expert in criminal law to represent him; this investigation is extensive, serious and possibly career-ending for a growing list of figures, which now certainly includes the president.

Whew! Consider that’s from Jennifer Rubin who “writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.

Greg Sargent follows up with the view that Trump is now under investigation, and he has no one to blame but himself.

The Post is reporting that President Trump is now personally under investigation by the special counsel for possible obstruction of justice, and this morning, Trump is in full meltdown-martyr mode over it. In a couple of tweets, he lashed out wildly at an unnamed “they,” who (raged Trump) failed to get him on collusion charges and are now trying to get him on “obstruction,” which he railed at as the “single greatest witch hunt in American history,” one that is “led by very bad and conflicted people.”

Benjamin Wittes, editor of the Lawfare Blog, notes that it’s important to remember that, in obstruction investigations, the sum total or pattern of facts is often critical. “When you’re doing an obstruction investigation, all the facts are important,” Wittes told me today. A reasonable prosecutor, Wittes noted, won’t look at this “as a discrete series of interactions,” and instead is likely to ask, “Is there some pattern of behavior that constitutes obstruction? If you’re looking for a pattern of behavior that constitutes obstruction, you want to know the entire pattern.”

… there is a set of shared facts that are not in dispute, which we can now consult, and those already constitute a pattern of conduct that is deeply problematic, whether or not they end up amounting to obstruction.

Here are those facts: Trump did fire Comey. Trump and the White House did contradict themselves about the rationale for that firing. They both did originally say that Trump fired Comey at the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy Rod J. Rosenstein, who created a memo detailing that recommendation rooted in Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe. After that story fell apart, Trump did subsequently tell NBC News that he was going to fire Comey regardless of any recommendation and that he did so over the Russia probe. Thus, Trump and the White House themselves did create the strong impression that Trump tried to recruit Sessions and Rosenstein to create a cover story for the Comey firing, and this (among other things) did leave Rosenstein no choice but to appoint a special counsel.

… Trump’s own words and actions are what led directly to both the appointment of special counsel Robert S. Muller III and to the fact that Trump’s own conduct is now being scrutinized. What’s more, Trump’s claims of persecution should be taken as more than mere deflection or an effort to stoke his supporters’ grievances. They hint that Trump could still try to remove Mueller, a possibility that must be taken more seriously now that Trump is a target.

… Trump’s decision to fire Comey — which reportedly emerged from a highly irrational, grievance-saturated flight of anger at Comey for failing to make the Russia probe disappear — plainly is what led the special counsel to focus on possible obstruction. All of this was Trump’s doing.

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