The first is that Trump appears to have broken some new ground here when it comes to admitting the true purpose of the Trump Tower meeting with a Kremlin-aligned lawyer — and even further contradicted the initial statement he helped draft about it. At the time, Donald Trump Jr. issued a statement explaining that he and the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children.” We have since discovered that the elder Trump actually dictated that statement.
.. Quickly, though, that explanation fell apart, and we learned that Trump Jr. had actually been promised harmful information about Democrats, including Hillary Clinton. The president himself seemed to shrug it off, saying in July 2017 that, “from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting.” He added: “It’s called opposition research or even research into your opponent.” (Trump also tweeted along these lines.) But at the same time, he still suggested that the meeting was, in large part, about adoption.
.. If you’re Robert Mueller and you’re looking at whether Trump obstructed justice, you’ve now got even more evidence of a clear attempt to mislead the public and obscure the truth. Trump’s July 2017 comments came before we knew he was involved in drafting that initial misleading response, and they don’t so precisely say the meeting was intended to get oppo; now there is really no disputing that point if you’re Trump’s lawyer. (It’s a little like Trump’s Lester Holt interview, in which he said Russia was on his mind when he fired James Comey. That may not be the same, legally speaking, as him saying he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation.)
.. One of the strangest things about our free-wheeling Tweet presidency is that Trump routinely admits/acknowledges things, in writing, that might require hard-fought testimony from other presidents. As he did today with motive of Trump Tower meeting.
..The second issue here are the final words of the tweet. “I did not know about it!” This is something Trump has said regularly about the Trump Tower meeting and something he has re-upped now that Michael Cohen is reportedly telling people that Trump did know about it.
.. But here’s the thing: This is a tweet about how the Trump Tower meeting was totally fine — nothing illegal to see here. If you’ve got no real concern about legal exposure from the meeting, why distance yourself from it? Trump seems to be arguing against his own point by assuring us that he had nothing to do with this meeting, which — oh, by the way — was totally on the up-and-up.
.. Is this tweet, in and of itself, damning? Probably not. But obstruction-of-justice cases are about proving that someone had “corrupt intent” when they took the actions they did. And for the second time in less than a week, Trump tweeted something that suggested his intent wasn’t terribly wholesome. He also suggested that he isn’t as convinced as he’d like us to believe that there’s nothing to see here.
Former U.S. district judge John S. Martin, writing in The Post to debunk the baseless proposal by House Freedom Caucus members to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, observes:
The actions of the Freedom Caucus members are not only baseless, they are also shameful. While they call for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Rosenstein, it may be more appropriate to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate an attempt to corruptly obstruct justice by members of Congress who so obviously use their office to intimidate the deputy attorney general and to undermine the credibility of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.
.. Their inexcusable acts include:
- The caper by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) in which he scurried over to the White House to review classified documents and then tried to push the fake “unmasking” scandal;
- Nunes’s memo falsely stating that information about the Christopher Steele dossier’s origins was omitted from the Foreign Intelligence Security Court warrant application to conduct surveillance on suspected spy Carter Page;
- The outing of a confidential intelligence source;
- The badgering of Rosenstein for documents from an ongoing investigation and the bogus impeachment articles cooked up by Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio);
- False accusations against the FBI (e.g. accusing FBI officials of aiding Hillary Clinton in the campaign) that were discredited by the inspector general’s report; and
- Refusal to obtain relevant documents (e.g. the blocked phone number that Donald Trump Jr. called in close proximity to the Russia meeting in June 2016).
.. Congressmen, Trump lawyers and White House aides conferring with intent to mislead investigators and the public, to disable the inquiry and/or to discredit law enforcement sounds an awful lot like obstruction of justice. Conversations or documents relating to that sort of conspiracy are in no way privileged.
.. Norman Eisen, Laurence Tribe and Caroline Frederickson wrote in February: “Endeavoring to stop an investigation, if done with corrupt intent, may constitute obstruction of justice. Plotting to assist such action may be conspiracy to obstruct justice. Normally, what is called ‘speech or debate immunity would provide a strong bulwark against any such liability for Mr. Nunes or his staff.” However, they argued, “Mr. Nunes and company may have ranged so far afield that those protections no longer apply. Under the clause, mere peripheral connection to legislative acts cannot serve as a fig leaf to shield criminal conduct.” They argued that if “a member or staff employee of the House Intelligence Committee engaged with the White House to stifle the special counsel inquiry, it would be difficult to see how such collaboration would be” protected by the speech or debate clause.
.. An investigation into Republican House members’ antics is critical if we want to hold them responsible for actions injurious to our criminal justice system. It is also necessary in order to uncover who if anyone they were colluding with on the White House side of the operation. Any White House official and/or lawyer — with or without the president’s knowledge — scheming to obstruct the investigation in concert with members of Congress needs to be investigated and held accountable.
.. Rather than simply play defense on behalf of Rosenstein and the Russian investigators, defenders of the rule of law need to go on offense, demanding Nunes, Meadows and Jordan come clean on their actions in support of a president trying to thwart a legitimate investigation. It all needs to come out.