The Obstruction of Justice League
Through either arrogance, ignorance, or a combination of the two, the Trump administration, in attempting to downplay any suggestions of misconduct with regard to its Russia affair, has only managed to create a bigger mess for itself. What could have been a contained scandal that began with former nat sec adviser Michael Flynn (and ended with his resignation) instead has spiraled into something much larger in scope and severity: Indications of “-gate” level corruption and obstruction of justice allegations that ensnare not only members of the president’s cabinet, but the intelligence community and U.S. Congress.
There are two tangential series of questions to be examined here:
- Regarding Flynn’s discussion of sanctions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who in the administration knew what, and more importantly, when did they know it?
- Regarding an effort to contain fallout from a New York Times story that alleged Flynn’s phone call wasn’t the only contact Trump’s team had with Russians, did the administration improperly use the FBI and members of the both the Senate and House Intelligence committees for its own political benefit?
At the center of both of these matters is Reince Priebus. In February, the White House chief of staff took to the Sunday morning talk show circuit in an attempt to clarify the timeline of events concerning the Flynn matter and his eventual firing, which has remained cloudy at best, at least in part due to his penchant for giving conflicting statements. Of particular concern is whether Mike Pence knew that Flynn had discussed sanctions with the Russian diplomat when the vice president went on “Face the Nation” January 15 and said the two “did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.”
A week after that interview, acting Attorney General Sally Yates told White House Counsel Don McGahn transcripts of Flynn’s call to the Russian proved otherwise, but Pence insists the first he heard of it was on February 9, when news of Yates report to McGahn went public.
On February 19, however, Priebus, in attempting to explain why White House counsel (and the president) would keep such info from Pence, told Chuck Todd that “I think [Pence] was always aware of the issue as to whether or not he talked about sanctions. I mean that was an ongoing conversation… The vice president is in the loop on everything.”
So, which is it? Did Pence lie to the public, or did Trump, by omission, lie to Pence?
Priebus also told Todd that, regarding whether Flynn may have lied to the feds, which would be a felony, that the White House “talked about that issue with leadership at the FBI.” That’s bad! The White House shouldn’t be talking to the FBI about ongoing, potentially felonious investigations about White House conduct! But it seems like, nevertheless, the White House is in the habit of doing that.
After news broke that a number of people in the Trump team had been in contact with Russians — not just Flynn — Priebus was apparently taken aside by FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe and told that the report was a lot of “bullshit.”
McCabe told Priebus the bureau “would love to help” the administration. Priebus asked McCabe whether anonymous agents could leak that info to the press. That right there is enough to warrant an investigation into obstruction of justice. McCabe apparently knew this was risky territory and declined Priebus’ appeal, so the chief of staff enlisted the help of Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
Spicer personally put reporters from The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal on phone calls with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Senate Select Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr, and stayed on the line while they acted as cheerleaders for the administration, pushing back at reports about the Russian contacts.
According to one official, Pompeo and Burr insisted that the reports were “not accurate.” Spicer also provided the reporters’ phone numbers to House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes, who offered to call them to deny the reports as well. The problem with all of this is that the House Intelligence Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the Russian contacts by members of Trump’s team. How in the world could it be considered appropriate for the people conducting an investigation to act as spokespeople for the subjects of that investigation? Especially when, as Nunes told media Monday, he hasn’t actually seen any of the evidence of Trump’s team’s communications?
Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is refusing to recuse himself from a potential Justice Department probe into the Russian contacts because he sees no conflicts of interest arising from the fact that he was a member of the Trump campaign and worked closely with Flynn. So what we have is a chief of staff and press secretary colluding with the FBI, CIA, congressional committees, and potentially the DOJ — all of which are or will be investigating the White House — to knock down negative reports about the substance of those investigations. In other words, conflicts of interest, of superhuman proportions.
Previously: All the orange president’s men.