Special counsel Robert Mueller has taken an interest in the series of events surrounding the recusal of the Attorney General from the Russia-collusion probe
The New York Times reported last night that special counsel Robert Mueller has taken an interest in the series of events surrounding the recusal of the Attorney General from the Russia-collusion probe almost a year ago. If the reporting is correct, the focus of Mueller’s investigation appears to have shifted away from the core issue — did Trump and the campaign collude with Russia to hack the DNC and John Podesta — and onto an ancillary but still potent issue of an abuse of power:
Pres. Trump reportedly told his top WH lawyer to stop AG Sessions from withdrawing from the Russia probe, but the WH counsel failed to change Sessions’ mind. Robert Mueller is investigating whether that action and others could be obstruction of justice. @jeffpeguescbs reports: pic.twitter.com/fP0hVjnITd
— CBS News (@CBSNews) January 5, 2018
President Trump gave firm instructions in March to the White House’s top lawyer: stop the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, from recusing himself in the Justice Department’s investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s associates had helped a Russian campaign to disrupt the 2016 election.
Public pressure was building for Mr. Sessions, who had been a senior member of the Trump campaign, to step aside. But the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, carried out the president’s orders and lobbied Mr. Sessions to remain in charge of the inquiry, according to two people with knowledge of the episode.
Mr. McGahn was unsuccessful, and the president erupted in anger in front of numerous White House officials, saying he needed his attorney general to protect him. Mr. Trump said he had expected his top law enforcement official to safeguard him the way he believed Robert F. Kennedy, as attorney general, had done for his brother John F. Kennedy and Eric H. Holder Jr. had for Barack Obama.
Other claims in the NYT article might cause a little more trouble, at least politically:
The New York Times has also learned that four days before Mr. Comey was fired, one of Mr. Sessions’s aides asked a congressional staff member whether he had damaging information about Mr. Comey, part of an apparent effort to undermine the F.B.I. director. It was not clear whether Mr. Mueller’s investigators knew about this episode.
Mr. Mueller has also been examining a false statement that the president reportedly dictated on Air Force One in July in response to an article in The Times about a meeting that Trump campaign officials had with Russians in 2016. A new book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” by Michael Wolff, says that the president’s lawyers believed that the statement was “an explicit attempt to throw sand into the investigation’s gears,” and that it led one of Mr. Trump’s spokesmen to quit because he believed it was obstruction of justice.
But the experts are divided about whether the accumulated evidence is enough for Mr. Mueller to bring an obstruction case. They said it could be difficult to prove that the president, who has broad authority over the executive branch, including the hiring and firing of officials, had corrupt intentions when he took actions like ousting the F.B.I. director. Some experts said the case would be stronger if there was evidence that the president had told witnesses to lie under oath.
If Mueller wants to pursue an obstruction of justice case, he still has to find where justice got obstructed. Sessions recused, and the investigation went on. Comey got fired, and the investigation went on. Trump said a lot of ill-advised things over that period of time, but he never ordered an end to the probe — at least as far as has been reported at this point. According to Hot Air