With just a single tweet, President Donald Trump has raised new questions about whether he attempted to obstruct justice when he fired former FBI Director James Comey. After a day of silence on former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's guilty plea, Trump tweeted Saturday that he "had to fire" Flynn because he'd lied to both the vice president and the FBI. Many have characterized the tweet as Trump admitting to having sought to obstruct justice when he fired Comey in early May, after he declined to drop the FBI's investigation into Flynn as Trump had requested.
UPDATE: Trump has since said his lawyer John Dowd wrote the tweet, a claim Dowd echoed, stating he had drafted it in a "sloppy" manner, ABC News reported. While a lawyer having written the tweet could limit the consequences Trump could face if it is deemed obstruction of justice, many people have argued it doesn't make sense for a lawyer to write something that would incriminate his client.
EARLIER: "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI," the president wrote in a tweet on Saturday. "He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!"
As it is written, the tweet appears to imply that Trump was fully aware Flynn had lied to the FBI when he asked Comey to drop his investigation. It is a federal crime to willfully conceal information or make false or fraudulent statements in any matter within the jurisdiction of the federal government.
Trump's latest tweet also veers from how the White House has previously justified Flynn's dismissal. In a press conference held the day after Flynn departed in February, then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Trump had asked Flynn to resign because his trust in him had "eroded."
"There is not a legal issue but rather a trust issue," Spicer said, pointing to reports Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak prior to taking office.
Trump's recent tweet, however, has raised questions as to whether or not the president knew Flynn had also lied to the FBI at the time of his dismissal, and more importantly, when he asked Comey to drop the FBI's investigation into Flynn.
Comey has said the president asked him to let the investigation into Flynn drop during a private conversation held in the Oval Office on Feb. 14, the day after Flynn had resigned. In June, Comey detailed Trump's request in his testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "He is a good guy and has been through a lot," Comey claimed Trump told him before reiterating that Flynn "hadn't done anything wrong" in his communications with the Russians. "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," Comey claimed Trump said to him. "He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."
Trump's tweet about his reason for pushing Flynn to resign didn't go unnoticed Saturday. Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu argued the president's tweet was evidence of attempted obstruction of justice. "THIS IS OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE. @POTUS now admits he KNEW Michael Flynn lied to the FBI," Lieu wrote in a tweet of his own Saturday. "Yet Trump tried to influence or stop the FBI investigation on Flynn."
Former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller, who served under the Obama administration, also characterized the tweet as an admission of attempting to obstruct justice. "Oh my god, he just admitted to obstruction of justice," Miller tweeted. "If Trump knew Flynn lied to the FBI when he asked Comey to let it go, then there is your case."
Other members of the Obama administration also scrutinized the president's tweet. "If Trump keeps admitting to obstructing justice, Ty Cobb might be right that the Mueller investigation may wrap up sooner than we think," Dan Pfeiffer, who once served as a senior advisor to former President Barack Obama, said in a tweet Saturday.
"So Trump says he knew Flynn lied to the FBI when he asked Comey to let go of the Flynn investigation," former Obama foreign policy advisor and speechwriter, Ben Rhodes tweeted. "Good of him to keep commenting on the obstruction of justice investigation."
On Friday, Trump's former national security adviser pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI regarding his communications with Russian officials.