Trump gift-wraps Mueller his best evidence yet.
Yesterday will likely go down in history as the single most consequential day of Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House.
In the dead of night, Republicans in the Senate jammed through a bill that will overhaul the United States economy in wholly unknown ways, including the handwritten provisions in the margins of the bill that members didn’t have a chance to read prior to its passage.
But, earlier that morning, Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI. On its face, it was a shockingly tiny slap on the wrist. But putting all the pieces together, it’s obvious that Flynn is working with special counsel Robert Mueller and that the minor plea is Flynn’s reward for being a cooperating witness and flipping on at least one bigger fish.
Unsurprisingly, developments over the past week or two, coupled with yesterday’s news, sent the Trump team into recovery mode.
One of Trump’s many lawyer, Ty Cobb, issued a statement (in Comic Sans font, for some reason):
The statement tried to soften Flynn’s role in the White House (“25 days”), attempted to implicate other people (“a former Obama administration official”) and downplayed the significance of the charge (“a single count of making a false statement to the FBI.”)
Cobb notes that Flynn “resigned” as a result of false statements to “White House officials.”
The problem for Cobb is his client. As we wrote yesterday, “the most likely person to bring down Donald Trump is the man himself.
This morning, Trump not only undercut Cobb’s statement, but managed to admit to obstruction of justice.
In trying to distance himself from Flynn, Trump admits that Flynn was fired because he lied to Mike Pence “and the FBI.”
“And the FBI.”
Those three words are a brutally damning admission.
In Cobb’s statement, he’s careful to say Flynn had to go because he lied to the White House. Limiting the reason for Flynn’s ouster as a lie solely to the White House is absolutely crucial considering Trump’s future actions.
Flynn was fired on February 13, 2017. The very next day Trump told then-FBI director James Comey, who at the time was overseeing an investigation into Russian interference and collusion, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
When Comey did not let Flynn or the Russia investigation go, the White House cooked up a reason to fire Comey, before Trump admitted, “And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.”
After Trump’s admission today, it’s a pretty simple puzzle to put together:
- February 13, 2017: Trump fires Flynn for lying to Pence and the FBI.
- February 14, 2017: Trump asks Comey to not prosecute Flynn for the lies.
- May 9, 2017: Trump fires Comey for failing to stop Trump-Russia investigation.
The toughest hurdle to overcome in an obstruction of justice case is proving intent.
The bigger problem with trying to make an obstruction of justice charge stick is the always thorny matter of trying to prove intent. So, even if Trump desperately wanted Comey to back off from any potential investigation of his Russia tie and did try to undermine such an investigation, a prosecutor would still have to prove that he deliberately and willfully used illegal means to stop Comey from an investigation.
Whether Trump’s firing of Comey rose to the level of obstruction was going to be tricky because of the intent element. Before this morning, there was no proof that Trump knew Flynn committed an actual crime. Now, Trump recklessly decided to hand Mueller his best evidence of intent yet.
Trump admitted he knew that Flynn committed a crime, then asked Comey to not pursue it. When Comey wouldn’t stop, he was fired as well.
Game, set, match.
317 days in, 1145 to go
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