The Russian Connection: The Case for Obstruction of Justice

The case for obstruction of justice against Donald Trump is building. First there was the firing of FBI Director James Comey and Trump’s TV interview and tweets that indicated that his motive for Comey’s dismissal was the investigation of the Russian involvement in the 2016 election which now appears to have gone even farther than was original thought.

Second it was revealed by the New York Times that Comey kept meticulous notes about his meetings with Trump as was his habit. According to Comey, Trump asked him to end the FBI probe into former White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s role in the Russian meddling and asked him to pledge his loyalty to him.

President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.

“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.

The documentation of Mr. Trump’s request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia. Late Tuesday, Representative Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, demanded that the F.B.I. turn over all “memoranda, notes, summaries and recordings” of discussions between Mr. Trump and Mr. Comey.

Such documents, Mr. Chaffetz wrote, would “raise questions as to whether the president attempted to influence or impede” the F.B.I.

Mr. Comey wrote the memo detailing his conversation with the president immediately after the meeting, which took place the day after Mr. Flynn resigned, according to two people who read the memo. It was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation. An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.

Then last night the Washington Post dropped this bomb:

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. Two days earlier, Comey had confirmed in a congressional hearing that the bureau was probing whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 race.

After the encounter, Coats discussed the conversation with other officials and decided that intervening with Comey as Trump had suggested would be inappropriate, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal matters.

The events involving Coats show the president went further than just asking intelligence officials to deny publicly the existence of any evidence showing collusion during the 2016 election, as The Washington Post reported in May. The interaction with Coats indicates that Trump aimed to enlist top officials to have Comey curtail the bureau’s probe.

This morning Director Coates, in an open hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, refused to confirm or deny any of the details in the Washington Post article.

“I don’t believe it’s appropriate for me to address that in a public session,’’ Coats said. “I don’t think this is the appropriate venue to do this in.’’

He added: “I have never felt pressure to intervene or interfere in any way … in an ongoing investigation.’

Testifying along with National Security Agency Director Michael S. Rogers, when asked if Mr. Trump had invoked executive privilege, Dir. Coates said that Mr. trump had not, which puzzled Senator Mark Warner (D-VA). According to legal experts, without having invoke executive privilege, there was no legal reason for Dir. Coates not answering the questions about Mr. Trump’s alleged request to impede the investigation of Mr. Flynn. This even frustrated Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who was not happy with Dir. Coates responses.

When Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) questioned if either Dir. Coates or Dir. Rogers were asked By Mr. Trump to interfere with the Russian probe, both refused to respond. That’s a separate question than whether they felt pressure to do something they thought was wrong.

“I’m not prepared to answer your question today,” Coats said and Rogers agreed.

Their answers and that of other officials testifying were considered by some to be a contempt of Congress.

FBI acting director McCabe also refused to say if he had conversations with former FBI director James B. Comey about his conversations with the president. And then Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein refused to explain how and why Attorney General Jeff Sessions un-recused himself and whether he understood his memo would be used to fire Comey.

None of these witnesses invoked executive privilege or national security. They just didn’t want to answer. King finally blew up, scolding Rogers that what he “feels” isn’t relevant. He demanded to know why Rogers and Coats were not answering. He demanded a “legal justification” for not answering, and the witnesses did not supply any. Coats strongly hinted he would share information, just not in public, and that he would cooperate with the special prosecutor.

This is nothing short of outrageous. Congress has an independent obligation to conduct oversight. Witnesses cannot simply decide they don’t want to share. If they could, there would be no oversight.

Former FBI Director James Comey will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee tomorrow. Click here for the link to Mr. Comey’s seven page opening statement.