Is the special counsel investigating Trump for obstruction of justice?
© Greg Nash

The odds are very high, for reasons that follow, that special counsel Robert Mueller will imminently open, or more likely has already opened, a formal investigation to determine whether President Donald Trump has committed obstruction of justice to impede the search for truth in the "Putingate" scandal.

Before the Senate Intelligence Committee and the eyes of the world on Thursday, former FBI Director James Comey offered extensive evidence that supports the case that President TrumpDonald TrumpEx-Trump lawyer Cohen to pen forward for impeachment book Murkowski says it would be 'appropriate' to bar Trump from holding office again Man known as 'QAnon Shaman' asks Trump for pardon after storming Capitol MORE committed obstruction of justice. While many are focused on the fact that Comey called Trump a liar, which is not an original observation about the president, the far more important fact is that Comey provided detailed evidence, point-by-point, that supports the case for obstruction.

Trump's lawyers and media defenders can shout from the rooftops that Trump won the day during the Comey hearing, but it does not matter what spin Trump's defenders seek to sell. What matters are the facts as uncovered and interpreted by special counsel Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee.

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It does not matter if Trump's defenders in politics and media keep repeating the charge of "liberal media bias". Trump's problem is not the media that is falsely purported to be liberal, it is the political and legal impact of facts investigated by authorities and reported by news organizations, such as the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and the Wall Street Journal, among many others.

 

Trump initiated so many contacts with the former FBI director, for the purpose of suggesting that he drop the case against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, that his behavior virtually constituted presidential stalking. Saturday Night Live could satirize the way that Trump threw his top advisors out of the room, including his attorney general, so he could be alone with Comey, without witnesses, to work his persuasive charm on the director to get Flynn off the legal hook.  

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan will attend Biden's inauguration COVID-19 relief bill: A promising first act for immigration reform National Review criticizes 'Cruz Eleven': Barbara Boxer shouldn't be conservative role model MORE's (R-Wis.) argument that Trump just did not understand what he was doing will not carry water with Mueller, who is more likely to view Trump's throwing his other advisors out of the room as consciousness of guilt for a wrongful act he did not want others to witness.

Mueller knows that Trump fired the former U.S. attorney in New York, the widely-respected Preet Bharara, as his office was investigating the Putingate scandal. Mueller knows that Trump fired the widely-respected former Attorney General Sally Yates, shortly after she warned the White House that Flynn's behavior surrounding his meetings with the Russian ambassador made him susceptible to possible blackmail by the Russians. This is highly probative evidence for an obstruction of justice investigation.

Mueller knows that Trump bragged to the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador that he fired Comey to undermine the investigation involving Russia and claimed that his firing of Comey dramatically reduced the pressure on him. Mueller will not take kindly, as a legal proposition, to the bizarre fact that Trump bragged to Russians being investigated for a covert war against American democracy that he fired Comey to influence his investigation of them and him. 

This is highly probative evidence for a possible obstruction of justice investigation.

Mueller, who was once a widely-admired FBI director himself, will know the truth about Comey's charge that Trump was lying when he harshly criticized the FBI during Comey's watch. Anyone want to bet whether Mueller believes Comey or Trump?

Mueller knows that there are highly-credible reports that Trump contacted Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsSenate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security New federal cybersecurity lead says 'rumor control' site will remain up through January Biden soars as leader of the free world MORE and NSA Director Michael Rogers for the purpose of persuading them to be loyal to his side of the story on the scandal. Both Coats and Rogers infuriated key Republican and Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday when they refused to answer questions about what Trump may have told them. Were they protecting Trump from the disclosure of key facts on the day before the Comey hearing?

Mueller will be pointed and direct toward Coats and Rogers if and when he takes their testimony during a potential investigation of obstruction of justice. They will answer his questions about what Trump told them; whether they were sufficiently worried to discuss Trump's interventions with each other; whether they were so alarmed they kept contemporaneous notes of conversations with Trump; and whether they received pressure or guidance from anyone on the Trump staff to influence their testimony to the Senate.

Mueller knows that Trump's suggestion that he may have taped his meetings could well have been intended to intimidate Comey and tamper with the testimony of a witness. He will almost certainly insist on listening to any tapes, in which case he will have decisive evidence of what happened if the tapes exist, or he will have powerful evidence of attempted witness intimidation and tampering if Trump fabricated the suggestion that tapes exist.

Mueller knows that while the Russian deep state intelligence network continues to wage its covert war against American democracy, Trump has repeatedly criticized the CIA and attacked the very existence of investigations by the FBI and Congress as "fake news." Mueller will consider why Trump has expressed no interest in learning the facts about the Russian cyberwar against America, while he has repeatedly criticized virtually every investigation seeking to uncover the facts.

Why do you think, dear reader, that Trump wanted "no witnesses" in his most fateful words to Comey?

In my column this week, I suggested that much truth would emerge from the hearing. It did. Trump can tweet, claiming he was completely vindicated during the Comey hearing, but we will probably learn decisive truths about obstruction of justice and related matters when the investigations of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the special counsel are finally concluded.

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


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