The launching of an official impeachment investigation of the U.S. president by the House of Representatives now seems certain — only its timing remains an open issue. The reason? There is now overwhelming evidence that President Trump has consistently sought to take full control of the U.S. Department of Justice — and the actions he has taken amount to the impeachable crime of obstruction of justice. As mounting evidence of grand corruption implicates the president, he is more determined than ever to secure his reelection, even if this involves further acts to undermine the U.S. Constitution. As things stand, owing to the utter complicity of the Republican Party, the president has taken de facto control of the U.S. Senate. He is also making a mockery of the concept that the Congress is a co-equal branch of the government. In this context, Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham, have emerged as his lead enablers. As if that weren’t enough, President Trump and his crew are on a rampage through the halls of the U.S. government in search of personal gain and the protection of ill-gotten gains. The evidence is piling up with breathless rapidity.
Today’s newspapers provide three stories which in more normal times would each lead to immediate investigations by the Congress and calls for the incumbent in the White House to be driven from power. First, a report from the Oversight and Reform Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives details how the Trump administration sought to sell highly sensitive nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia. This was done over the objections of the U.S. intelligence services. The deal was being pushed at the start of Trump’s term in office by then national security advisor Michael Flynn who also had a financial interest in the U.S. company that was leading the sales effort. Flynn now faces sentencing for other crimes. A possible Saudi nuclear power deal continues to be secretly discussed according to a The Washington Post report that notes an Oval Office meeting on this topic last week.
Second, former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe has stated in a series of interviews that he informed leaders of the U.S. Congress in the spring of 2017 that the FBI had such overwhelming evidence that it had no choice other than to open a case into whether president Trump was a Russian agent. This confirms earlier press reports and the fact that this was part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative mandate. McCabe, the author of a new book, The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump, noted in a radio interview, for example, that in an Oval Office meeting that considered U.S. intelligence reports detailing North Korea’s missile programs, “the president kind of went off on a diatribe,” changed the subject to his belief that North Korea had not actually launched any missiles because Russian President Vladimir Putin told him that the U.S. intelligence assessment was wrong and that “it was all a hoax.”
Third, The New York Times reported that president Trump requested acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to ensure that there be a change in the lead prosecutor investigating payments that Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, made directly before the election to secure the silence of two women that Trump had had affairs with. Trump wanted a prosecutor on the case that he believed would be loyal to him. Trump failed. Cohen is about to start a three-year prison sentence for lying to Congress about these matters. Trump, according to the newspaper report which looked in-depth at Trump’s many efforts to curb investigations of his dealings, soured on Whitaker after he failed to intervene in the Cohen investigation. Previously, Trump also constantly blasted then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself in the Russia investigations and eventually moved to fire him. Never shy to opt for vengeful action, Trump also launched blistering attacks on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who will leave his post next month. Lest anybody forget, within the U.S. Justice Department, Trump also fired FBI director James Comey and he ensured the firing of McCabe. The scale of top level Justice Department dismissals at the express request of the U.S. president is without precedent.
There appear to be at least two motives, quite apart from ego, why Trump is so tirelessly seeking to obstruct justice and control the Justice Department, while going so early into full reelection campaigning mode. First, a number of prominent Democratic members of Congress believe the president has deep, possible illegal, financial ties to Russian sources of finance that are key to the viability of his real estate businesses. At all costs, it seems, Trump is determined to try and block all investigations into his finances and those of his family. And, second, Trump is desperate to cover up any political ties that he may have had with Russian officials during his 2016 election campaign. As it happens, close associates selected by Trump — Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, both of whom await sentencing for crimes resulting from the Mueller investigations, as well as Trump and Manafort friend Roger Stone, who has now been indicated by the Special Counsel — all had extensive ties to Russian officials. Court documents filed by Mueller, which have been heavily redacted, indicate that Russian assistance to the Trump campaign may have come in exchange for a pledge that when in office the president would recognize Russian interests in Ukraine and curb U.S. sanctions.
As to next steps in this rapidly unfolding saga, look out for the following: further statements by the Special Counsel at the court hearings on sentences for Flynn, Manafort and the latter’s former deputy Rick Gates; the court case against Roger Stone’s alleged secret dealings with Wikileaks and Russian hackers of Hilary Clinton’s and her campaign’s computers; testimony to Congress by Michael Cohen before he goes to prison next month; a host of public hearings by various committees of the House of Representatives and investigations by them; news from investigations by the New York state Attorney General into Trump’s finances and his charitable foundation; court hearings on challenges to Trump’s “national emergency.” And, of course, more sensational reports in the media – all of which come from sources across the Trump administration who, one has to assume, are aghast at the wilful and repeated abuses of public office by the president and numerous members of his cabinet.
Even Pre-Mueller Final Report, What We Do Know Ain’t Good
In this continuing saga of Mueller vs. Trump, the Mueller report was reported to be done this week until it was reported it wasn’t. As we anxiously await whenever it is complete, we already know much of what we’re dealing with from our lawless president. A lot of the evidence has already been revealed in plain sight: slowly-written-mueller-
Which is just the point: Regardless of the content or timing of the Mueller report, plenty of information is already available for the public to judge the president and his administration. Following the path of former President Richard Nixon’s downfall, there’s been a search for a smoking gun on par with his fateful White House tapes. But as I have written, there’s been an arsenal of smoking guns sitting out in the open for years now. Or put differently, if this is a witch hunt, investigators have already found a coven. The existing knowledge comes from various sources. A great deal of it has been revealed in Mueller’s indictments and other filings in the case, which have offered rich details about many incidents involving the president’s associates. Other parts have emerged in press reports, or through congressional investigations. And some of the relevant information pertains to acts that were done in the open, such as the Trump ally Roger Stone’s pronouncements about WikiLeaks. For example, the public already knows that Trump pursued a building project in Moscow well into the presidential campaign. Though, originally, his longtime aide Michael Cohen said that the effort ended in January 2016, he later admitted that it actually went until June of that year, shortly before Trump was officially nominated as the Republican candidate. Trump Organization representatives were in touch with top Russian officials about the project, and hatched a plan to give the penthouse of the building to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a gift. During the campaign, Trump repeatedly praised Putin and shrugged at Russia’s unlawful annexation of Crimea. The candidate was at the very least misleading the public when he said he had no business in Russia.
Trump also publicly called on Russia to hack the emails of Hillary Clinton, his rival for the presidency and the former secretary of state. That same day, Russian hackers attempted for the first time to infiltrate Clinton’s email server. According to court filings, Stone also worked to get in touch with WikiLeaks to understand forthcoming dumps of documents obtained from Russian-government-related hackers, and communicated with top Trump staffers about the conversation. In any case, he publicly predicted WikiLeaks releases. In June 2016, Trump’s son, son-in-law, and campaign chairman met at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer who they expected would give them negative information about Clinton. They’d also been told that the Kremlin supported Trump’s campaign. They did not report the contacts to law enforcement. Later, when The New York Times got wind of the meeting, President Trump released a false and misleading statement about it on his son’s behalf. The Trump Tower meeting and the Moscow-tower planning were among the more than 100 contacts that Trump and his aides had with Russians between the start of his campaign and the inauguration. Several of them have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about those contacts, including Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos. Another, Carter Page, offered confusing and seemingly contradictory accounts about his interactions with Russians during testimony to members of Congress. Collusion happened; the question is what Trump knew about it and when. Trump also lied about paying off two women who have alleged to have had sexual affairs with him. Initially, the president said he knew nothing about the payments. Later, he acknowledged learning about them. And Cohen later said in court that Trump had instructed him to make the payments, effectively implicating Trump in a crime—in an account implicitly backed by federal prosecutors.
Whether Trump formally committed the crime of obstruction of justice remains unlitigated, but he has fought relentlessly to undermine and block the Russia investigation, mostly recently in a tweet Friday morning saying, “The Witch Hunt, so bad for our Country, must end!” According to contemporaneous quotes from James Comey, Trump pressured the then–FBI director to drop an investigation into Flynn. He fired Comey after he declined to do so. He lambasted former Attorney General Jeff Sessions both publicly and privately for recusing himself from Russia-related matters and refusing to end the probe. He has threatened Mueller publicly and reportedly attempted to fire him. According to a recent Times story, Trump tried to have his handpicked U.S. attorney take over an investigation from the Southern District of New York. His cries of “witch hunt” have become so frequent that they barely penetrate the consciousness. By any plain-English definition, he has worked strenuously to obstruct a full accounting of his actions. Taken together, these incidents paint a vivid and consistent portrait of a president who is chronically dishonest, does not respect the rule of law, is frantic to avoid being investigated, hires people without strong ethical bearings, and placed himself in a position to be compromised by Russia during the campaign. (This doesn’t even get into the chaos and mismanagement of his presidency, the many scandals of his Cabinet members, his boasting about sexual assault, his encouragement of attacks on the press, and any number of other offenses.)
President Trump will not be out of legal peril even after special counsel Robert Mueller delivers his final report — especially given that investigations by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York (SDNY), among others, are pressing in on him. Legal experts who spoke to The Hill stressed the importance of the New York investigation in particular, which encompasses scrutiny of everything from apparent hush money payments to women to the funding of the president’s 2017 inauguration. “Trump is not out of the woods and I think the SDNY proceedings are the most dangerous for both him and for members of his immediate family,” said Mark Zaid, a D.C.-based attorney who has represented clients from both major parties. “There is still a lot to be concerned about.” While it is widely expected that Mueller’s probe is drawing to a close, a Department of Justice official on Friday pushed back on earlier reports that the special counsel’s final report was only days away. The report will not be delivered in the next week, the official told The Hill.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) in a brief interview with The Hill warned that Mueller should not finish his probe because of outside political pressure. “Is it done because he says it’s done or because of pressure from the attorney general or the White House?” he asked. Mueller and his team have played their cards close to their chest, which means that — for all the column inches and airtime devoted to his work — no one has any firm idea of how he might summarize his findings. Despite Trump’s near-constant attacks on the Mueller probe, it has resulted in indictments or guilty pleas from 34 people. Among those who have pleaded guilty are Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort (who was also convicted in a jury trial on other charges); Manafort’s deputy Richard Gates; Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn; his former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos; and his former lawyer Michael Cohen, whose case has been transferred to the SDNY.
The question is no longer whether Trump and his campaign colluded with Russians in advance of the election of 2016. The New York Times reported recently that “Donald J. Trump and at least 17 campaign officials and advisers had contacts with Russian nationals and WikiLeaks, or their intermediaries,” during the 2016 campaign for president. “Among these contacts are more than 100 in-person meetings, phone calls, text messages, emails and private messages on Twitter.” “Mr. Trump and his campaign repeatedly denied having such contacts with Russians during the 2016 election,” The Times reported. They dropped that last assertion like an afterthought, but in fact, the denials by Trump and his henchmen that they had any contacts with Russians go to the heart of the case of collusion. Prosecutors call it “a sign of guilt,” the repeated denial of facts that are later shown to be true. Why would Trump stand up at his very first news conference after taking office on February 16, 2017, and deny that neither he or any of his associates other than Michael Flynn had any contacts with Russians? He was asked the question repeatedly, in different forms. Did he have any business dealings in Russia? No. Did anyone working on his behalf have any contacts with Russians? “No, nobody that I know of.” Can we get a yes or no answer, sir? “Russia is a ruse.” “It’s all fake news.” “It’s a joke.” In an off-the-cuff manner, Trump told reporters at his first press conference that he had already talked to Russian president Vladimir Putin twice: once right after the election, and the second time after he had been inaugurated. Reporters didn’t question him about what they had talked about. Everyone was concerned with whether there had been contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russians before election day, not after.
But not enough attention has been paid to the number of times Trump and Putin have talked since the election. According to The New York Times, Trump and Putin have had at least five meetings in person, and nine conversations over the phone since Trump won the election on November 9, 2016. Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep those conversations secret, including taking away his own translator’s notes after a private meeting with Putin in Hamburg, Germany at the G-20 Summit in 2017. He also had a second meeting with Putin after a dinner at the same summit, during which Trump’s own interpreter was barred from the meeting. “There is no official United States government record of what was said,” according to the Times. It has been widely reported that Trump accepted Putin’s denials of Russian interference in the 2016 election over the opinions of his own intelligence officials. But we didn’t know until this week with the publication of former FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe’s book, “The Threat” that Trump had taken Putin’s word over that of American intelligence agencies about the ability of North Korean ICBM’s to reach American shores. During an intelligence briefing in the White House, Trump told his intelligence chiefs, “I don’t care. I believe Putin,” according to the interview McCabe gave to “60 Minutes.” Why would Trump accept the word of an aggressive adversary over that of his own intelligence agencies? Why would he go to such great lengths to keep secret what he and Putin have talked about in person and on the phone? I think we now have our answer. It’s part of Trump’s continuing collusion with Russian president Vladimir Putin. The collusion didn’t end with the election. It’s ongoing. It’s constant. In fact, I don’t think we really know how many times Trump has talked to Putin. McCabe was asked during an interview this week when Trump had learned from Putin about the abilities of North Korea’s missile program. “I don’t know,” McCabe replied. Neither do we.
Trump’s contacts with the Russians go beyond his conversations with Putin. Remember what happened after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May of 2017? One day later, he welcomed into the Oval Office the Russian Ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, and Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and bragged about firing Comey. “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump told the Russians.” “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” He then added, apparently unprompted, “I’m not under investigation.” But we didn’t learn that from a White House transcript of the Oval Office meeting with the Russians. Nor did we learn it from members of the White House press corps who were present, because none were. No, we learned it days later from leaks by the Russian media, who were present in the Oval Office. Trump had already spoken with Putin on the phone twice. Now he was reassuring the Russians that he had taken care of the man who had announced he was investigating Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, and that he himself was not a subject of an FBI investigation. That would not remain true for very long. We now know from McCabe’s book that he had opened a criminal and counterintelligence investigation of President Trump soon after he fired Comey. “I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground in an indelible fashion that were I removed quickly or reassigned or fired that the case would not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace,” McCabe told CBS’ “Sixty Minutes” last Sunday. McCabe was correct to be worried that the FBI investigation of Trump would either disappear or come under attack by the president. The New York Times reported yesterday that Trump has attacked the Russia investigation more than 1,100 times. “The attacks, which number nearly 1,200, are part of a strategy to beat back the investigations. They have also opened him to possible obstruction of justice charges. They include statements made on Twitter, in official speeches, at rallies and during news media interviews and other press events.”
Attacking the investigation being carried out by Robert Mueller hasn’t been enough, however. What Trump has been doing with Putin isn’t collusion, it’s a conspiracy. The foundational crime of the conspiracy was to steal the election of 2016. What’s happened since has been a continuing conspiracy to destroy the Mueller investigation and push back at Democrats who are now gearing up to hold hearings to look into Trump and his Russia contacts. That’s why we have recently seen reports of Russian action on social media against Democrats during the midterm election for the house and senate in 2018. And now we’re seeing reports that the same Russians who interfered in the elections of 2016 and 2018 are starting to go after Democratic candidates who have announced for president, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren among them. Practically every meeting Trump has had with American allies has been hostile. He has constantly threatened the NATO alliance and been critical of close allies like Germany, France, Canada, and Mexico. But everything he’s ever said about Russia and Putin has been positive. Everything. Even after he called off a formal meeting with Putin at the latest G-20 summit in Argentina last November, he managed to have a private conversation with the Russian leader at a dinner that was closed to the press, the White House had to admit later. The collusion between Trump and Russia didn’t stop after the election. It’s ongoing, every time Trump appears with Putin at a summit, every time they have a private meeting, every time they pick up the phone. You think they might be getting ready for the election in 2020? I do.