For most of this year, we now know, President Donald Trump’s repeated insistence that he wasn’t under investigation in the Russia scandal was in fact true.
It’s not true anymore, according to a new report by the Washington Post.
Reporters Devlin Barrett, Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima, and Sari Horwitz wrote Wednesday evening that special counsel Robert Mueller is now probing “whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice” — an investigation they say began just days after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.
Specifically, they write, “five people briefed” say that Mueller’s team will soon interview Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers, along with Rogers’s former deputy, who recently left the government.
A spokesperson for Trump’s personal lawyer issued a statement that conspicuously did not deny the story, merely saying, “The FBI leak of information regarding the President is outrageous, inexcusable, and illegal.”
Many expected that Mueller would at some point turn to the topic of whether the president obstructed justice. But the Post story is the first clearly stated report that he is in fact doing so — a potentially ominous development for the president.
Mueller is likely interviewing Coats and Rogers about a couple of other recent Washington Post stories
To understand why Mueller wants to interview Coats and Rogers, you have to refer back to a pair of other major Washington Post scoops (from some of these same reporters).
First of all, last month, Entous and Nakashima reported that Trump had urged Coats and Rogers “to publicly deny the existence of any evidence” of collusion between his team and Russia — but Coats and Rogers refused to do it.
Then just last week, Entous followed up by reporting a new example of Trump personally trying to interfere with an FBI investigation to protect Flynn.
Entous wrote that after a White House briefing on March 22 — two days after Comey publicly confirmed the investigation into Trump’s team and Russia — Trump requested that everyone present leave the room except Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo (just as Trump reportedly did before he asked Comey to drop the Flynn investigation).
Then, according to Entous’s sources (“officials” familiar with Coats’s description of what happened), Trump “started complaining about the FBI investigation and Comey’s handling of it.” He then asked Coats “if he could intervene” with Comey “to get the bureau to back off its focus on former national security adviser Michael Flynn in its Russia probe.”
This was reminiscent of Watergate. The “smoking gun” that did in President Nixon, in the end, was a tape that revealed he ordered his chief of staff to get the CIA to stop the FBI’s investigation into the Watergate break-ins, as Dylan Matthews explains. The difference here is that, so far as we know, Coats refused to carry out Trump’s request.
When asked about this Post story during testimony before the Senate last week, Coats wouldn’t confirm or deny it — saying instead that he didn’t want to talk about his private conversations with the president. But he will likely have to be more forthcoming with Mueller.
Things could get really ugly
All that was before this new report that Mueller was investigating Trump’s own behavior and conduct in office.
However, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testified Tuesday that he believed only he could fire Mueller — and said that if he received an order to do so without “good cause,” he’d refuse to carry it out.
So if Trump truly does want Mueller gone, he’d likely have to get rid of Rosenstein too. That is something he could do, in what would be a clear sequel to Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre.” (In October 1973, Nixon ordered the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate break-ins fired, and the attorney general and deputy attorney general resigned in protest rather than carry out his order.)
Considering it was the firing of Comey that got him under investigation in the first place, one would think that if President Trump truly does believe he’s innocent, he’d refrain from repeating that mistake with Mueller and worsening his political and legal troubles yet further. One would think.