The House Intel Committee may force the FBI to tip its hand to Russia
With one dictated statement, Trump may build the obstruction case against himself
Yesterday the Washington Post reported that President Trump personally dictated a statement for his son Donald Trump Jr. to give regarding his meeting with a Russian lawyer, indicating that they "primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children" that was "not a campaign issue at the time."
The president's dictation of this statement to his son will create significant legal headaches for him and could be used by Robert Mueller, special counsel for the Justice Department's Russia investigation, as evidence of his corrupt intent as part of an existing obstruction of justice investigation.
The statement reportedly dictated by the president proved to be misleading - at best - after Trump Jr. released an email string that showed the purpose of the meeting was actually to "provide some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia" as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."
If true, the president's decision to personally dictate the statement to Donald Trump Jr. raises a serious question: Why was the president motivated to craft this statement?
His decision to do so would suggest that he was highly motivated to shape his son's account of the purpose of the meeting. Given that the statement was later shown to be deceptive, the president's authorship of the statement could suggest a strong desire to hide the truth about the meeting from the public or a desire to influence his son's account of what happened.
Conversations between the president and his son about this public statement would not be privileged, and Mueller's team would likely have significant questions for both men about how the statement was written and the conversations they had regarding the statement.
Did the president have prior independent knowledge of the meeting or its aftermath? What did Trump Jr. tell the president about what was discussed at the meeting? Did he object at all to the president's characterization of the meeting in the statement?
The president has once again proven to be his own worst enemy in the growing obstruction of justice case being assembled by Mueller's team. The omnibus obstruction of justice statute is only violated by a person who "corruptly ... endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice."
By allegedly pushing former FBI Director James Comey to end the Russia investigation, by subsequently firing Comey and by allegedly pushing intelligence chiefs to influence the Russia investigation, the president has engaged in a pattern of behavior that could lead to an inference that he acted "corruptly."
The latest revelation has also created a difficult dilemma for his personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, who has repeatedly defended the president in various public appearances. Shortly after the Trump Jr. meeting was revealed, Sekulow told NBC's "Meet The Press" that "the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement." A few days earlier, he told ABC's "Good Morning America" that the president "didn't sign off" on the statement.
As an attorney, Sekulow has an ethical obligation not to "make a false statement of material fact" to anyone in the course of representing a client, pursuant to Rule of Professional Conduct 4.1. His statements appear to be false if the Washington Post's report is accurate, which leads to an implication that the president lied to Sekulow or hid the truth from him. Sekulow refused to answer questions and issued a terse, one-sentence blanket response. I would expect Sekulow, like Trump Jr., to be asked tough questions about what the president told him about his role in this statement in the weeks and months to come.
Ultimately, the toughest questions will be reserved for the president himself. His intense interest in Mueller's investigation and repeated attempts to shape the course of that investigation only serve to raise additional questions and create inferences that could strengthen the case against him.
Renato Mariotti is a former federal prosecutor in the Securities and Commodities Fraud Section of the United States Attorney's Office in Chicago and he has prosecuted federal obstruction of justice cases. Follow him on Twitter @renato_mariotti.
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