Obstruction of justice watch: Trump attacks the FBI

New evidence raises the danger that President Trump will ultimately be charged with obstruction of justice by Robert Mueller and his special counsel team.

The most important and astonishing new evidence is that Trump himself, in a now infamous tweet, said that one of the reasons he fired former national security advisor Michael Flynn was that Flynn had lied to the FBI.

If Trump knew that Flynn lied to the FBI, then pressured former FBI Director James Comey to not prosecute Flynn, then fired Comey after he did not comply, this is powerful and probative evidence of obstruction of justice.


This new evidence was met with a frenzied and incoherent response from the Trump team. Trump’s personal lawyer John Dowd claimed he drafted the revelatory tweet, but most analysts found it absurd to claim that the president did not write, post or believe his own tweet.

Dowd then suggested, sounding like Richard Nixon on his darkest days, that the president cannot be charged with obstruction of justice because he is the president. Those who believe the president is above the law would welcome Dowd’s interpretation of constitutional law.

But many prominent lawyers were appalled by Dowd's comment, and few voters want to be told by the president’s personal lawyer that his client is untouchable.

In 1999, when the Senate voted on the impeachment of Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonShould the Rob Porter outcome set the standard? Make the compromise: Ending chain migration is a small price to legalize Dreamers Assessing Trump's impeachment odds through a historic lens MORE, 50 GOP senators voted for the obstruction of justice article, including Senators Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE (Ky.), Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchOvernight Finance: NAFTA defenders dig in | Tech pushes Treasury to fight EU on taxes | AT&T faces setback in merger trial | Dems make new case against Trump tax law | Trump fuels fight over gas tax What sort of senator will Mitt Romney be? Not a backbencher, even day one Lawmaker interest in NAFTA intensifies amid Trump moves MORE (Utah), Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsUnder pressure, Trump shifts blame for Russia intrusion Overnight Tech: Judge blocks AT&T request for DOJ communications | Facebook VP apologizes for tweets about Mueller probe | Tech wants Treasury to fight EU tax proposal Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand MORE (Ala.), Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranOvernight Finance: Breaking down Trump's budget | White House finally releases infrastructure plan | Why it faces a tough road ahead | GOP, Dems feud over tax-cut aftermath | Markets rebound McConnell tees up budget deal McConnell urging Mississippi gov to appoint himself if Cochran resigns: report MORE (Miss.), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball Trump set a good defense budget, but here is how to make it better MORE (Ariz.) and Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyCornyn: We'll need at least one more stopgap funding bill Moore supporters fire back at Richard Shelby Disaster aid becomes hostage to funding fight MORE (Ala.).

There is panic in the air at the White House. With Flynn copping a plea and telling the feds what he knows, and with the president seeming to admit that he knew that Flynn had lied to the FBI before he pressured and then fired Comey, the dangers of an obstruction charge are rising.

The greatest sign of presidential panic, and the most disturbing mistake Trump has made during the last week, was to launch an aggressive attack against the FBI.

Trump did not merely attack Comey. He attacked the institution of the FBI itself. He attacked the work, independence and credibility of the FBI. He seeks to pressure the FBI to go easy on him or to preemptively discredit the FBI itself while it investigates the Russia scandal.

Trump repeatedly attacks institutions of justice and law enforcement in ways that bear an eerie similarity to the articles of impeachment against Nixon passed by the House Judiciary Committee in 1974, which condemned Nixon’s abuses of the Justice Department, FBI and CIA. 

Trump has persistently attacked, sought to intimidate and discredit or fire those investigating the Russia scandal. 

Trump promised to retain, and then fired, former New York U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. He courted, tried to influence and then fired former FBI Director Comey.

He fired former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she warned the White House that Flynn’s lying had subjected him to potential blackmail by Russia. He harshly criticized and suggested he might fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, using the same tactic he now directs against the FBI.

While the CIA was investigating and countering a Russian cyberattack against America that continues today, Trump compared the CIA to Nazi Germany, with comments that would have been cheered by Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and his operatives who attack America.

One by one, Trump has attacked, condemned, threatened and sought to discredit institutions of government that are investigating, exposing and countering the Russian attacks that are the subject of the investigations.

Trump owes the men and women of the FBI, the CIA and the Department of Justice an apology. He owes the American people the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth on all matters involving the Russia scandal. He faces a real and growing danger of being charged with obstruction of justice.

Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the U.S. House of Representatives. He holds an LLM in international financial law from the London School of Economics.