What if the Obstruction Was the Collusion? On the New York Times’s Latest Bombshell

LawFare has a very interesting article on the Russian investigation and Donald Trump. Here is a very brief portion of the article written by Benjamin Wittes, editor in chief of Lawfare and a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of several books. The rest you may read at LawFare’s site here.

Shortly before the holidays, I received a call from New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt asking me to meet with him about some reporting he had done. Schmidt did not describe the subject until we met up, when he went over with me a portion of the congressional interview of former FBI General Counsel James Baker, who was then my Brookings colleague and remains my Lawfare colleague. When he shared what Baker had said, and when I thought about it over the next few days in conjunction with some other documents and statements, a question gelled in my mind. Observers of the Russia investigation have generally understood Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s work as focusing on at least two separate tracks: collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, on the one hand, and potential obstruction of justice by the president, on the other. But what if the obstruction was the collusion—or at least a part of it?

Late last year, I wrote a memo for Schmidt outlining how I read all of this material, a memo from which this post is adapted.

Today, the New York Times is reporting that in the days following the firing of James Comey, the FBI opened an investigation of President Trump. It wasn’t simply the obstruction investigation that many of us have assumed. It was also a counterintelligence investigation predicated on the notion that the president’s own actions might constitute a national security threat:

In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.

The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.

The following is an adaption of the memo I sent Schmidt. I have updated it in important respects in light of the reporting in the Times’s actual story. The analysis remains, however, tentative; I want to be careful not to overread the threads of evidence I am pulling together here.

The analysis that follows is lengthy and takes a number of twists and turns before laying out what I think is the significance of the whole thing. Here’s the bottom line: I believe that between today’s New York Times story and some other earlier material I have been sifting through and thinking about, we might be in a position to revisit the relationship between the “collusion” and obstruction components of the Mueller investigation. Specifically, I now believe they are far more integrated with one another than I previously understood.

Read the complete article on LawFare.

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In 649 days, President Trump has made 6,420 false or misleading claims

Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

On Sept. 7, President Trump woke up in Billings, Mont., flew to Fargo, N.D., visited Sioux Falls, S.D., and eventually returned to Washington. He spoke to reporters on Air Force One, held a pair of fundraisers and was interviewed by three local reporters.

In that single day, he publicly made 125 false or misleading statements — in a period of time that totaled only about 120 minutes. It was a new single-day high.

Trump’s tsunami of untruths helped push the count in The Fact Checker’s database past 5,000 on the 601st day of his presidency. That’s an average of 8.3 Trumpian claims a day, but in the past nine days — since our last update — the president has averaged 32 claims a day.

Fittingly, the 5,000th claim was a tweet about the investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III: “Russian ‘collusion’ was just an excuse by the Democrats for having lost the Election!”

On nearly 140 occasions, the president has falsely claimed that the Russia investigation was made up or a hoax. But the information on Russian efforts to sway the 2016 election was developed by the intelligence community and published in a declassified report, in which the agencies said they had “high confidence” it was correct.

The president’s 5,001st claim was another tweet: He claimed that the administration “did an unappreciated great job” dealing with Hurricane Maria when it struck Puerto Rico in 2017.

That’s just spin that ignores a raft of official reports. A study by George Washington University estimated the death toll at between 2,658 and 3,290. Puerto Rico adopted the midpoint number, 2,975, as its official death toll. The island’s population dropped 8 percent because of the death toll and heavy out-migration after the hurricanes, according to the GWU study. A separate report by the Government Accountability Office found a litany of issues that prevented the Federal Emergency Management Agency from responding quickly and efficiently to the Puerto Rican disaster. Full power was not restored to Puerto Rico for 11 months after the hurricane.

Almost one-third of Trump’s claims — 1,573 — in The Fact Checker’s database relate to economic issues, trade deals or jobs. He frequently takes credit for jobs created before he became president or company decisions with which he had no role. He cites his “incredible success” in terms of job growth, even though annual job growth under his presidency has been slower than the last five years of President Barack Obama’s tenure. Almost 50 times, Trump has claimed that the economy today is the “greatest” in U.S. history, an absurd statement not backed up by data.

In the wake of the Woodward book, Trump resurrected a claim that dates from his first 100 days in office — that he has accomplished more than any other president in history in the same period of time. He made that statement six times in four days after news reports about the Woodward book.

Besides the tax bill, Trump has signed few noteworthy pieces of legislation, in contrast with the whirlwind of major bills passed in the first two years of the administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson or Obama. As of his 600th day, Trump had signed about the same number of bills as Obama and George W. Bush but is behind every other president since Dwight D. Eisenhower, according to a calculation by Joshua Tauberer of GovTrack. He noted that Trump is just behind Obama in terms of the number of pages, indicating that much of the legislation he has signed has been about increasing government spending.

Donald Trump has put America at an historical level of debt, made America a joke in the eyes of many nations and with his fawning over dictators and princes is defining MAGA as Make America Grovel Away.