There have been a number of additional developments in the Russian collusion investigations of the Trump regime in the last 48 hours as the Republicans trying to place their thumbs on the scales of justice by attacking the FBI's credibility are discovering that trying to take on federal law enforcement when it comes to a leak war to the media is a pretty bad idea.
CNN dropped two major stories last night, first, the revelation that Donald Trump openly asked for the loyalty of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein
as recently as December.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein visited the White House in December seeking President Donald Trump's help. The top Justice Department official in the Russia investigation wanted Trump's support in fighting off document demands from House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes.
But the President had other priorities ahead of a key appearance by Rosenstein on the Hill, according to sources familiar with the meeting. Trump wanted to know where the special counsel's Russia investigation was heading. And he wanted to know whether Rosenstein was "on my team."
The episode is the latest to come to light portraying a President whose inquiries sometimes cross a line that presidents traditionally have tried to avoid when dealing with the Justice Department, for which a measure of independence is key. The exchange could raise further questions about whether Trump was seeking to interfere in the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into potential collusion by the Trump campaign with Russia and obstruction of justice by the White House.
At the December meeting, the deputy attorney general appeared surprised by the President's questions, the sources said. He demurred on the direction of the Russia investigation, which Rosenstein has ultimate authority over now that his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has recused himself. And he responded awkwardly to the President's "team" request, the sources said.
"Of course, we're all on your team, Mr. President," Rosenstein told Trump, the sources said. It is not clear what Trump meant or how Rosenstein interpreted the comment.
Again, for Donald Trump to directly ask Rosenstein about the DoJ's investigation of Trump himself is a massive, massive red flag, and given that Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, pressured former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to quit, and pressured Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the investigation to the point where Sessions recused himself, the fact that Trump now pressured Rosenstein is a clear indication of intent to obstruct the investigation
The other story from CNN also involves the FBI, and that's the development that the FBI agent who wrote James Comey's first draft of the letter re-opening the Clinton e-mail investigation weeks before the election was the same FBI agent, Peter Strzok, the Republicans say was somehow biased against
Emails obtained by CNN show the FBI agent at the center of a Capitol Hill storm played a key role in a controversial FBI decision that upended Hillary Clinton's campaign just days before the 2016 election: the letter to Congress by then-FBI Director James Comey announcing the bureau was investigating newly discovered Clinton emails.
The new revelation about FBI agent Peter Strzok comes as Republicans accuse him of being sympathetic to Clinton while seeking to undermine Donald Trump during the heat of the 2016 campaign season.
Strzok, who co-wrote what appears to be the first draft that formed the basis of the letter Comey sent to Congress, also supported reopening the Clinton investigation once the emails were discovered on disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner's laptop, according to a source familiar with Strzok's thinking. The day after Strzok sent his draft to his colleagues, Comey released the letter to Congress, reigniting the email controversy in the final days of the campaign.
Strzok did, however, harbor reservations about Comey making a public announcement just days before the election and sent a text message to that effect, two sources said. And Strzok's text messages provided to Congress show him grappling with the fallout of making the letter public, according to a CNN review of his texts.
So Strzok did what plenty of people do in their careers: perform their job as instructed despite the personal misgivings of the ethics of the action. He thought it was obviously a move to hurt Clinton, but he did his job anyway
. The notion that there's a massive "Deep State Obama/Clinton conspiracy" in the FBI doesn't hold water, considering that Comey's letter almost certainly helped win the election for Trump.
Meanwhile the NY Times got another story, this time on Robert Mueller's continuing hunt into the Trump regime's wrongdoing, as we learn Mueller's obstruction of justice investigation is focusing on Donald Trump's lies about his staff meeting with Russian nationals last summer. That's not new in an of itself, but what is novel is Mueller's focus on Trump adviser Hope Hicks and the role she may have played in that obstruction
The latest witness to be called for an interview about the episode was Mark Corallo, who served as a spokesman for Mr. Trump’s legal team before resigning in July. Mr. Corallo received an interview request last week from the special counsel and has agreed to the interview, according to three people with knowledge of the request.
Mr. Corallo is planning to tell Mr. Mueller about a previously undisclosed conference call with Mr. Trump and Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, according to the three people. Mr. Corallo planned to tell investigators that Ms. Hicks said during the call that emails written by Donald Trump Jr. before the Trump Tower meeting — in which the younger Mr. Trump said he was eager to receive political dirt about Mrs. Clinton from the Russians — “will never get out.” That left Mr. Corallo with concerns that Ms. Hicks could be contemplating obstructing justice, the people said.
In a statement on Wednesday, a lawyer for Ms. Hicks strongly denied Mr. Corallo’s allegations.
“As most reporters know, it’s not my practice to comment in response to questions from the media. But this warrants a response,” said the lawyer, Robert P. Trout. “She never said that. And the idea that Hope Hicks ever suggested that emails or other documents would be concealed or destroyed is completely false.”
And thus we have Mueller's real sword of Damocles exposed: Trump's not the only person who can be charged with obstruction of justice
, and everyone who's not Donald Trump has considerably fewer legal protections in case they are charged.
Accusations began flying that the botched response made an already bad situation worse. Ms. Hicks called Mr. Corallo, according to three people who relayed his version of events to The Times. She accused him of trafficking in conspiracy theories and drawing more attention to the story.
The conference call with the president, Mr. Corallo and Ms. Hicks took place the next morning, and what transpired on the call is a matter of dispute.
In Mr. Corallo’s account — which he provided contemporaneously to three colleagues who later gave it to The Times — he told both Mr. Trump and Ms. Hicks that the statement drafted aboard Air Force One would backfire because documents would eventually surface showing that the meeting had been set up for the Trump campaign to get political dirt about Mrs. Clinton from the Russians.
According to his account, Ms. Hicks responded that the emails “will never get out” because only a few people had access to them. Mr. Corallo, who worked as a Justice Department spokesman during the George W. Bush administration, told colleagues he was alarmed not only by what Ms. Hicks had said — either she was being naïve or was suggesting that the emails could be withheld from investigators — but also that she had said it in front of the president without a lawyer on the phone and that the conversation could not be protected by attorney-client privilege.
Contacted on Wednesday, Mr. Corallo said he did not dispute any of the account shared by his colleagues but declined to elaborate further.
Even if Mr. Corallo is correct and Ms. Hicks was hinting at an attempt to conceal the emails, doing so would have been nearly impossible. Congress had requested records from Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman; Mr. Kushner; and other Trump campaign officials about meetings with Russians. And lawyers had already copied and stamped the emails for delivery to Capitol Hill.
Ahh, but the salient point with obstruction of justice is the attempt and intent
to conceal information, not the success of the attempt itself.
Hope Hicks better lawyer up considerably. No doubt she already has. No doubt Mueller already knows of Corallo's statements about her as well, meaning this is a chin music message pitch fastball right at Trump's head. We've known for some time that Hicks is effectively Trump's gatekeeper and personal assistant
. If she's being directly accused of obstruction, and Mueller has gotten to her...
Well, Trump's going to have some sleepless nights.