It is, in addition, a scandal born of Trump’s desperation to publicize information that is true and that a president is fully entitled to publicize — such as the facts that the president had been assured by the FBI director on multiple occasions that he is not a criminal suspect
.. True, his media-Democrat enemies cast every story in the worst possible light. But there’s always a story, isn’t there?
.. That is largely Trump’s doing. The tweet-tirades about phantom wiretaps (which undermined his credibility
.. The multiple conflicting explanations for Comey’s removal. The bizarre decision to meet Russian diplomats the day after Comey’s dismissal and, shamefully, to berate the former director in their presence. And, of course, more tweets, such as the self-destructive suggestion of a Watergate-resonant White House taping system (that almost certainly does not exist).
.. Four key decisions, three of them made after the president was inaugurated and the Justice Department came under his control, at least nominally, have done immense damage to his administration — in conjunction with Trump’s belief that fires are best doused with gasoline.
.. After his (self-induced) nightmare over the Hillary Clinton e-mails investigation, Comey was reluctant to announce that Trump was not a suspect; he feared that if Trump’s status later changed, he would have to correct his announcement
.. during congressional testimony, he made an unnecessary announcement about the Russia investigation that led the media to report, and much of the public to believe, that Trump was a suspect in possible crimes. Once he did that, it was unreasonable to refuse to correct this misimpression by publicly acknowledging that Trump was not a suspect.
.. It is all well and good to agitate over a “duty to correct,” but Comey glides past the more basic duty not to make gratuitous prejudicial statements in the first place.
1. The Flynn Investigation and Interrogation
because Kislyak, as an operative of a hostile foreign power, was under FBI surveillance, the bureau knew (and informed what the New York Times furtively described as “Obama advisers”) that Flynn had done nothing improper in these discussions — i.e., no quid pro quo involving a lifting of Obama-imposed sanctions
.. the Justice Department had the FBI interrogate him about the Kislyak conversations even though it had recordings of them and thus did not need Flynn’s input.
.. Reportedly, Flynn misled the FBI agents about whether sanctions had been discussed (just as he misled Vice President Mike Pence — which led to Flynn’s dismissal).
.. Still, there appears to have been no justification for considering him a suspect and interrogating him as such.
That is what led Trump, in the immediate aftermath of the painful decision to fire Flynn, to lean on Comey to drop the investigation. That, in turn, is the spark that lit the obstruction fire.
2. The Sessions Recusal
.. in overreaction to false allegations that he had perjured himself at the Senate hearing, Sessions bowed to media-Democrat demands and announced a recusal more sweeping than it needed to be.
.. Sessions was not consulted on Comey’s March 20 testimony. He was thus unable to direct the FBI director not to make a misleading announcement that suggested Trump was a suspect
3. Comey’s March 20 Testimony
(a) the FBI was conducting a counterintelligence investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the election;
(b) this probe included “investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts”; and
(c) the FBI would further assess whether any crimes were committed.
.. The then-director began his statement by asserting that he had been “authorized by the Department of Justice” to make this announcement. As noted above, Sessions had by then recused himself, but Rosenstein was not yet confirmed — that would take another month. On March 20, the acting DAG was Dana Boente, a longtime prosecutor whom President Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, had appointed
.. It is hard to imagine that Sessions would have authorized Comey’s March 20 announcement – certainly not unless it acknowledged that Trump was not a suspect.
.. had the Justice Department refused to authorize this unnecessary and misleading announcement, Comey would probably still be FBI director, there would be no obstruction investigation, and the Russia counterintelligence probe might be winding down toward a finding that there had been no Trump campaign collusion.
4. Rosenstein’s Appointment of a Special Counsel
.. Rosenstein saw that he was being made the fall-guy for a decision
.. Having cultivated good relations on both sides of the aisle, Rosenstein had been confirmed by the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support (94–6); suffice it to say, he is not the type to let Democratic hyperbole roll off his back.
.. making a counterintelligence probe the linchpin of a special-counsel investigation sets no practical limitations on the special counsel’s jurisdiction. Counterintelligence is an information-gathering exercise; it does not have the definitive parameters of a criminal investigation, which focuses on concrete factual scenarios in which indictable crimes have been committed.
.. Rosenstein’s flouting of the regulations means Mueller’s investigation is a fishing expedition. It is already straying far afield from suspicions about Trump collusion in Russia’s election-meddling — which, we need to remind ourselves, is the purported rationale for the probe
.. The probe’s focus has morphed from collusion to obstruction
.. Mueller has also broadened his scope to include the scrutinizing of financial activities of Trump associates, reportedly based on hunches about possible bribery and money-laundering. These, in turn, are based on the assumption that there was collusion
.. there are conflicts of interest that are apt to discredit the investigation, regardless of whether they technically require disqualification.
.. Rosenstein selected Mueller despite the latter’s close friendship with and professional ties to Comey. Now that obstruction is suddenly the focal point of the probe, Comey is clearly a central witness.
.. Mueller promptly made tin-eared hires: lawyers who, despite their impressive prosecutorial credentials, are Obama and Clinton donors. One of them, Andrew Weissmann, is also plagued by the scorched-earth reputation he developed as special prosecutor in the Enron investigation, particularly the infamous prosecution that destroyed the Arthur Andersen accounting firm — which Weissmann indicted on very thin proof for, yes, obstruction of justice . . . only to have the conviction thrown out by the Supreme Court.
.. the staffing decisions make it inevitable that much of the public will suspect prosecutorial bias even if all the lawyers perform responsibly.
.. President Trump can be an erratic and intemperate client
.. If the president has learned nothing else, it should be the importance of filling the Justice Department, and the rest of his administration, with his own appointees. To say the prior administration laid traps for him, and that he has blundered his way into them, is putting it mildly.