Yesterday, The Failing New York Times broke the story that former FBI Director James Comey—whom Donald Trump fired for doing a good job—has spent the last few months not only slowly building a treason case but an obstruction of justice case. At the same time. Against the president of the United States.
The story goes like this: Donald Trump spent two years talking to Trump supporters and Rudy Giuliani, then he sat down to dinner one night and thought he could outwit the Director of the FBI. Turns out the Director of the FBI is a pretty sharp needle and the president is a buffoon. James Comey has been about one thousand 6’8” strides ahead of Trump for months, and, according to The New York Times, wrote detailed memos after each interaction he had with Mr. Trump, creating a paper trail over the last several months that recorded the president’s many attempts to influence an ongoing federal investigation. These types of notes from FBI agents are usually counted as credible evidence in court.
According to one of these memos, Donald Trump asked James Comey in an Oval Office meeting, after ushering Jeff Sessions and Mike Pence out of the room, to end the FBI’s investigation into Michael Flynn: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Comey apparently agreed that Flynn was a good guy, but said no more. The White House issued a statement saying this is totally inaccurate and never happened.
This might very well be obstruction of justice. It’s the crime that brought Nixon down, and it could, and probably will, bring down Trump and Mike Pence long before the Russia investigation finally draws all the truly ugly stuff into the light. One senior Trump administration official, who previously worked on the Trump campaign, gave what The Daily Beast called “a candid and brief assessment of the fallout” from this devastating story: “I don’t see how Trump isn’t completely fucked.”
(If that’s not Steve Bannon, I’ll eat my hat.)
There’s a simple way to show there’s obstruction of justice here. We’ll just look at two events: one in February, and one last week. I’ll call them the bookends.
This part hasn’t been reported much. When Mr. Trump asked Comey to let Flynn go, the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia wasn’t public. That investigation didn’t become official until Comey revealed it on March 20. There were solid rumors but nothing official.
So I went back and dug up some mainstream reports on Flynn’s firing, dated February 13. None of them mention the FBI investigation into Trump-Russia. Here’s The Failing New York Times. And here’s The Washington Post. Here’s The Post’s initial scoop on Flynn lying about talking with Kislyak. Here’s CNN. And NBC. And even FOX News.
But lo, The Atlantic did mention that investigation. And the next evening, right after the president asked Comey to shut the investigation into Flynn, the press dropped the bombshell that the FBI had evidence that members of the Trump team had been in close contact with Russian officials throughout the campaign. Including Flynn.
This means it’s pretty likely that Mr. Trump wasn’t just trying to get the Flynn investigation dropped, but was simultaneously trying to trick Comey into admitting out loud what was then technically a secret: that the FBI was specifically investigating Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia during the campaign. You’ll note that Mr. Trump didn’t mention an investigation explicitly. And Comey, of course, didn’t take the bait.
What’s more, note that Mr. Trump asked this of Comey the day after Flynn was fired. What would Trump care at that point if the FBI were only investigating Flynn?
So again, that question pops up: why is Trump defending Michael Fucking Flynn?
Here’s why this is important.
Last week, Mr. Trump—for some reason—on primetime network TV, knowingly, on the heels of two straight days of denying he’d fired James Comey because he wanted to end the Russia investigation, told Lester Holt that he fired James Comey because he wanted to bring an end to the Russia investigation.
Holt asked some follow-ups, and Trump answered them just as stunningly. Here they are:
HOLT: Did you ask [Comey] to drop the investigation?
TRUMP: No, never.
HOLT: Did anyone from the White House…
TRUMP: No. In fact, I want the investigation speeded up…
HOLT: Did anyone from the White House ask him to to end the investigation?
TRUMP: No, no. Why would we do that?
HOLT: Any surrogates on behalf of the White House?
TRUMP: Not that I know of.
This is Mr. Trump, on record, saying that he didn’t ask Comey to drop the investigation. But Comey, as we’ve just gone over, says Mr. Trump did in fact ask him to drop the Flynn part of the Russia investigation.
These are really the only two dots you need to connect:
Dot 1. Mr. Trump threatens Comey about shutting down the Russia investigation: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”
Dot 2. Trump fires Comey because of the Russia investigation.
The sticking point with a lot of reports here is that obstruction of justice requires you to prove someone “corruptly” tried to influence an investigation. This means you’ve got to have evidence of intent, of what someone was thinking about when they took an action. This is normally tough. Except, as you’ll see above, Mr. Trump walked Lester Holt through his thought process of whether to obstruct a federal investigation into him on national television.
I’ll also note that every Democrat on the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees sent letters asking their Republican counterparts to open an investigation into whether Trump & Company “engaged in an ongoing conspiracy to obstruct” the six million or so investigations currently underway, including the FBI’s and the four in Congress. Then House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz asked the acting FBI director for copies of all communications between Comey and Trump, saying these recent reports “raise questions as to whether the President attempted to influence or impede the FBI’s investigation.”
Some of Comey’s memos are, interestingly enough, classified.
This doesn’t stop with Flynn and Trump. Obstruction of justice charges would also apply to Mike Pence.
First, contrary to what you might have heard from criminally negligent news sources, the Trump transition team did in fact vet Flynn. They did, obviously, a real bang-up job. Guess who was running that show? Mike Pence! Whoops-a-daisy!
More importantly, though, Glenn Thrush from The Failing New York Times revealed these incriminating details last week on Morning Joe:
JOE SCARBOROUGH: We don’t know whether Sarah Huckabee Sanders was set up to go lie for the White House. We do know from your reporting that Mike Pence was in the room when Donald Trump decided that he wanted to fire Jim Comey…
GLENN THRUSH: Not only that…
SCARBOROUGH: ...and it’s much harder for Mike Pence to say I was given bad information. It appears he was not lied to. It appears that he lied.
THRUSH: Joe, it’s one… I can’t speak to motive on that. What we know is what he said in front of the cameras is untrue and what our reporting also bore out. We got this from half a dozen people who were around at the time. Pence was one of the most forceful proponents for removing James Comey. Here is another thing people forget about Mike Pence: after Chris Christie was sacked on the transition, Pence took over. And Pence, despite the fact that he claimed former national security adviser Flynn lied to him, Pence was read in on these early interactions that Flynn had. Pence has been in the room, Joe, as you know, from the very beginning.
So if you’re wondering why the GOP isn’t moving right away to impeach Donald Trump, it’s because that incriminating stuff about Pence (“one of the most forceful proponents” for obstructing justice by firing Comey) is only what happens to be public now. We’re about to see a torrent. The GOP isn’t moving on this because they are totally fucked and, quite possibly, frozen cold with a massive fear that, if this goes down, it won’t just take out the Trump administration or the GOP but, given the scope of this rot, the entire Republic might very well fall with it.
So then why is our president—after being warned by President Obama and his own transition team; then being told by Sally Yates that Flynn spoke to the Russian ambassador illegally and lied to the vice president about it; and learning this meant Russia had blackmail on your National Security Advisor; and then sitting on that information for weeks and doing nothing for no logical reason; and then finally firing the guy; and then learning Flynn was a foreign agent of Turkey; and that he lied on his security clearance form; and that he’s been under FBI investigation for collusion with Russia this whole time; and that he’s been subpoenaed by the Senate and a federal grand jury—why the fuck is Donald Trump, if he really wants to distance himself from Russia, why in fucking hell is Donald Trump still risking his entire presidency defending Mike Flynn in the face of stone cold evidence of a coverup?
Federal grand juries have been called, and last week Flynn’s business associates got subpoenaed. But Donald Trump still won’t say anything bad about Vladimir Putin, and he won’t say anything bad about Michael Flynn. And he’ll keep his rectal mouth puckered shut while the pillars of democracy fall down around him. #MAGA.