Is Mueller Going To Indict Trump? Here's The Evidence He's Pursuing A Case
Americans have understood since Watergate that a White House coverup can become an impeachable crime in and of itself. Now, evidence seems to be mounting that special counsel Robert Mueller might be pursuing an obstruction of justice case against President Trump and/or members of his inner circle. Mueller, who was appointed in May 2017, has been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election for nine months.
So far, four former Trump campaign associates have been charged in Mueller's investigation: former campaign chairman Paul Manafort; Manafort's deputy, Rick Gates; national security adviser Michael Flynn; and campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos. Flynn and Papadopoulos have each pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and are cooperating with Mueller's investigation. Manafort and Gates insist they are not guilty of tax and money laundering crimes.
According to many experts, an obstruction of justice case is much easier to prove and more constitutionally tenable than, say, a case asserting some collusion between the president and a foreign power. While it remains an unsettled matter among legal scholars whether a sitting president can be indicted at all, the indisputable historic record shows he can be impeached by Congress. As it stands, there are several clues that Mueller may be pursuing an obstruction of justice case against Trump.
1. He's very curious about Trump's reported attempts to fire Jeff Sessions
According to Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post, Mueller has spent a lot of time investigating the circumstances behind reports that Trump tried to oust Attorney General Jeff Sessions. During an appearance on CNN with Jake Tapper, Dawsey noted Trump's "multiple efforts to get him [Sessions] to resign" and the "public smear campaign" Trump may have been waging against Sessions.
Sessions recused himself from the investigation into Russian election interference, after it became clear he'd failed to tell Congress about his interactions with Russian officials during the election. Trump was reportedly furious about this recusal, and in September, the New York Times reported that Trump berated Sessions and told him he should resign.
With Sessions out of the action, some argued that Trump was really angry about was his sudden lack of an "insider" to pressure the investigation in his favor. Trump himself told the New York Times, "If he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else.”
2. He's looking into why Trump fired former FBI director James Comey
Of the Mueller's investigation into why Trump fired former FBI director James Comey, Dawsey told Tapper "there's an intensifying focus on the obstruction part of the probe, and the president's actions regarding these [Comey's and Flynn's] firings."
Comey testified that Trump tried to meet with him privately on several occasions, and asked for his "loyalty." In Comey's assessment, Trump was attempting to create a "patronage relationship," one where Comey could depend upon job security so long as he remained loyal to the president.
Comey also testified to Congress that Trump spoke with him explicitly about an FBI investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. According to Comey, Trump told him, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go." Trump denies that version of their conversation.
Of course, Trump also admitted publicly that he had the Russia investigation in mind when he decided to terminate Comey's employment at the FBI. If Mueller were to find sufficient evidence to conclude Trump did indeed pressure Comey into bending an FBI investigation to the president's benefit, and later fired Comey for not doing so, that would constitute obstruction of justice.
3. He's interested in the circumstances around Mike Flynn's departure from the White House
After just 25 days on the job, Trump fired retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, saying his chosen national security adviser had lied to the vice president about a conversation with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak that took place during the president's transition to the White House.
The news broke in December that Flynn had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, a revelation that many argued could indicate that he was cooperating with Mueller's investigation. That cooperation would allow him to avoid more (and more severe) charges, as his previous interactions and dealings with foreign entities raised plenty of legal concerns.
Then the president tweeted on Dec. 2, in part, "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies."
An eruption of response tweets followed; many people viewed Trump's tweet as proof he had obstructed justice. The tweet implies Trump knew that Flynn had lied to the FBI, and later tried to dissuade Comey from investigating him and thus discovering said crime. Trump has claimed his lawyer wrote this tweet.
Rep. Ted Lieu wrote without mincing any words: "THIS IS OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE."
A former Justice Department official under President Obama, Matthew Miller tweeted, "Oh my god, he just admitted to obstruction of justice."
As a former FBI special agent, Clinton Watts, told The Atlantic, "Many points that might form the basis of an obstruction case flow through Flynn." And Mueller is reportedly taking a serious interest in what went down before and after Flynn left Trump's administration.
4. Mueller is seeking an interview with Trump himself
Dawsey told Tapper that Mueller's team is currently in negotiations with Trump's lawyers to arrange an interview with the president himself. Presumably, they're working out whether or not the discussion will be under oath, or whether it will be recorded in any way. According to Dawsey, Trump adviser Roger Stone has said Trump agreeing to sit down with Mueller amounts to a "suicide watch."
Traditionally, when an investigation reaches the top person potentially involved, it signals that the end is near. Dawsey acknowledged this is often the case, but warned against assuming that just because Trump is interviewed the investigation is over.
Still, if a Trump interview does portend the closing days and weeks of Mueller's investigation, that would suggest the special counsel's final determination won't be that he colluded with the Russians. Jeffrey Toobin argues at The New Yorker that collusion committed by a president isn't even a defined crime. That only increases the likelihood that Mueller is looking more at obstruction of justice than at potential collusion at this point, at least where Trump himself is concerned. After all, Mueller is looking into the details of Trump's role in trying to oust Sessions, as well as firing Flynn and Comey. At this point, most pundits seem to agree that Mueller is looking into Trump's actions primarily to decide whether or not they fall under the category of obstruction of justice.