Eyes widened Saturday morning upon seeing this missive from our President (aka the Client from Hell). In response to news that Michael Flynn, his one-time National Security Adviser, pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI under a cooperation deal, Mr. Trump tweeted:
I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 2, 2017
This is a pretty substantial confession to essential knowledge elements of an obstruction of justice charge. https://t.co/UpQfilPVfJ
— Susan Hennessey (@Susan_Hennessey) December 2, 2017
“I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!.”
My first thought was, I thought his supporters said Flynn resigned. Now it turns out he was fired. But that was small potatoes to my second thought.
My second thought was, wait, what?
Trump knew Flynn had lied. Yet he later asked Comey to give Flynn a break. Isn’t this obstruction of justice? Did Trump just admit to attempting to obstruct justice?
I wasn’t the only one to think this. Really smart people weighed in.
Oh my god, he just admitted to obstruction of justice. If Trump knew Flynn lied to the FBI when he asked Comey to let it go, then there is your case. https://t.co/c6Wtd0TfzW
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) December 2, 2017
I had to refresh my recollection as to the timeline (or in State Department terms, the tick tock). I went to this superb timeline from fact-check.org (http://www.factcheck.org/2017/12/michael-flynns-russia-timeline/) and found:
Feb. 9 – The Washington Post reports that Flynn “privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States during the month before President Trump took office, contrary to public assertions by Trump officials, “citing unnamed current and former officials.”
Feb. 13 – Flynn resigns. He acknowledges that he misled Pence and others in the administration about his conversations with Kislyak, the Russian ambassador. “I inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador,” Flynn says.
Feb. 14 – Trump privately meets with FBI Director James Comey in the Oval Office. Comey says that the president brought up the FBI investigation of Flynn. “He then said, ‘I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.’ I replied only that ‘he is a good guy.’ … I did not say that I would ‘let this go,'” Comey would later recall. (Comey gave this account of his meeting with Trump in written testimony for his June 8 hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. The account was first reported May 16 by the New York Times. The White House issued a statement at that time saying the Times story is “not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”)
In short, when Trump asked FBI Director Comey to “[let] this go” he knew “this” was the lie to the FBI.
For those wanting a deep dive, read this Brookings Institution piece “Presidential Obstruction of Justice: The Case of Donald J. Trump.”
I will borrow this bit from the excellent treatise:
Efforts to stop an investigation fall squarely within the plain meaning of [18 USC] Sections 1503, 1505 and 1512 (2). To endeavor to “stop” something certainly fits within efforts to “influence,” “obstruct,” or “impede” it.
That Trump intended to stop Comey from proceeding further seems clear, and it was made doubly clear by firing him shortly afterwards.
So yes, I think a solid case of obstruction presents itself here.
It should not surprise us that the President tweets the first thing that comes into his mind. What is surprising is that no member of his team (or his family) has yet been able to pry his iPhone from his fingers. We have all known clients like this (see my reference above), but for a President to be the Client from Hell is still surprising. And deeply unsettling.
PS. If you’re still awake, here’s another article on the subject from Business Insider.
Breaking: the Washington Post reports that Trump’s lawyer, John Dowd, may have authored the tweet.
Color me astonished.
Grace Lidia Suarez (@gracels) is a retired criminal defense lawyer with way too much time on her hands (witness her near quarter million tweets) who’s been seen in San Francisco and You Bet California. Her views are undeniably her own, and she will pay the price one day.