In February, just one day after national security advisor Michael Flynn resigned from his post due to his nefarious ties to Russia, President Trump met with now ex-FBI Director James Comey in the Oval office – with a request to let the inquest into Flynn’s actions go.
- The FBI was investigating Flynn, Trump and his associates over potential collusion with Russia when Trump made the request.
- Nixon’s downfall happened long after the initial rumours.
- Congress will ultimately decide Trump’s fate, not legal experts.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump said, according to a memo that Comey allegedly wrote right after the meeting. He told Comey that Flynn was a “good guy” and that he had done nothing wrong, reportedly saying, “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
— CNN (@CNN) May 16, 2017
According to the memo, Comey responded, “I agree he is a good guy.”
In an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt Thursday, Trump explicitly denied asking Comey to drop the investigation. “No, never,” he said. “In fact, I want the investigation speeded up.”
REMEMBER: President Trump said Thursday that he never asked Comey to drop the FBI investigation. (Flynn investigation is part of FBI probe.) pic.twitter.com/FNjjuJaPac
— Marshall Cohen (@Marshall_Cohen) May 16, 2017
Obstruction of justice
In order for Trump’s behaviour in this meeting to qualify as criminal, amounting to obstruction of justice, the President would have had to implicitly or directly threaten to fire Comey.
“I don’t know if urging the FBI to end an investigation is itself a criminal act of obstruction of justice,” said Richard Painter, George W. Bush’s former chief ethics lawyer. “But it’s clearly an abuse of power for the president to be trying to get the FBI director to close an investigation for criminal conduct by members of his administration.”
This memo is the strongest evidence uncovered so far that Trump sought to interfere with a federal investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia. But, the government will likely need more evidence before impeachment proceedings can begin.
The White House has formally denied the allegations in the report.
“While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn,” the White House told the New York Times in a statement.
“The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”
Whether the memo contents alone are enough to impeach Trump is up to Congress to decide. We know that lying about your sex life can get you impeached; obviously it all turns on politics. And it’s likely that this Republican congress, who have so far been petrified to stand up to Trump, will literally need to catch Trump committing the act red-handed.
“Everything depends on intent, and it seems unlikely,” says Michael McConnell, director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School. But he added, “When I say unlikely, I don’t mean impossible.”
In a twist of irony, Trump’s faltering and inconsistent reasoning behind his firing of Comey might have damaged his credibility, it could actually help his case against obstruction because proving Trump’s “precise mind beyond a reasonable doubt” might now be difficult.
Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that the federal investigation into Russia played a role in his decision to fire Comey, saying, “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.”
This is a turnaround and more realistic rationale from his initial statement that he fired Comey after recommendations from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, pertaining to Comey’s mis-management of the Clinton email saga – something which Trump regularly gave Comey credit for on the campaign trail.
So will it happen?
Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at University of California Los Angeles Law, believes that if the New York Times report is accurate, its revelations would likely be enough to impeach Trump.
“The statement is evidence of the intent,” he said. “Do you think it would be hard to persuade a jury of your peers that someone who says, ‘I want you to stop doing something’ has the intent to make someone stop doing something?”
The details of Trump and Comey’s conversation remain shrouded in mystery. And perhaps Trump’s strange threat of “tapes” will bring them to light. Strange because surely only Trump can lose with any type of recording, next to the incredibly careful Comey.
James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
Nixon was impeached after a considerable amount of process, and a smoking gun, and a bipartisan consensus that he had committed serious breach of trust, not just upon the first rumours in the New York Times.
Indeed if there are tapes, Congress will eventually hear them. History tells us that President’s with tapes do not end up fairing well. Time will tell if this is the case for Trump. In the meanwhile, politics on the Hill will be the strongest indicator.