It’s been clear for months that special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation is also examining whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice while he was in office.
But of late, more and more specifics have emerged about just which of Trump’s actions Mueller is zeroing in on. And a new report from Michael Schmidt of the New York Times claims that Mueller’s team recently asked the White House for more information on 13 different topics.
Schmidt only mentions three of those 13, but those three are revealing — and indicate that Mueller’s interest in the obstruction angle is very serious indeed.
1) President Trump’s decision to fire National Security Adviser Michael Flynn back in February: Trump fired Flynn a mere three weeks after he was sworn in as president, apparently because of a pair of damaging leaked stories. One story suggested Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence about conversations he’d had with the Russian ambassador during the transition, and the second revealed that the White House had been warned that Flynn was vulnerable to Russian blackmail for this — and had taken no action.
Flynn appears to be an important figure in the collusion investigation — he’s been paid speaking fees by Russian entities and has contacts in the country. Recent reports also suggest he may have been involved in a GOP operative’s effort to obtain Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails from Russian hackers.
Flynn’s fate is also key to the question of whether President Trump tried to obstruct justice. Before his firing, Flynn was already the subject of an FBI investigation into whether he’d made false statements about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. Then the day after he was fired, President Trump pulled then-FBI Director James Comey aside to talk. Per Comey’s later testimony, Trump asked him to “let” the Flynn investigation “go.”
So it makes perfect sense that Mueller wants to know as much he can about precisely why Flynn was fired, and what discussions of the matter might have taken place among White House officials beforehand.
2) President Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Russian officials in May: The day after Trump fired Comey as FBI director, he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office.
According to a US document summarizing the meeting — an account of which was later leaked to the New York Times’s Matt Apuzzo, Maggie Haberman, and Matthew Rosenberg — Trump told the Russians, “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job.” He also reportedly said: “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
So with both the Russia angle and the Comey/obstruction angle, it’s easy to understand why Mueller is very interested in learning everything he can about this meeting.
3) Internal deliberations over the White House’s response to news reports about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower back in June 2016: Back in the summer, reporters first got wind of this curious meeting Trump Jr. had set up, and asked him about it.
In response, Trump Jr. released a statement claiming that the meeting was “primarily” about “a program about the adoption of Russian children.” But this was highly misleading, since further leaks revealed that he had set up the meeting with the hopes of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Later, it was reported that this misleading statement by the president’s son was crafted by the president himself. So Mueller’s team seems to want to know if Trump himself was trying to cover anything up in micromanaging his son’s disclosures about the meeting.
All this signals that the obstruction of justice aspect of Mueller’s investigation is quite serious
There’s been a lot of news about the Mueller investigation’s apparent focus on former Trump advisers Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn of late. But Schmidt’s report reminds us that the actions of the president of the United States are at the center of all this too.
Specifically, Mueller appears to be closely going through White House documents about most of the key events related to potential collusion and potential obstruction of justice, with a close focus on just what President Trump’s role was.
His team has also been interviewing administration officials — including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — apparently to quiz them about obstruction-related matters.
We of course don’t know what Mueller is finding, but the sheer scope of the probe augurs nothing good for the Trump administration.