With still no public evidence that President Trump or his associates colluded with Russia over the 2016 election, many in the news media have pulled back on their arguments that Trump is guilty of working with Russia to win the election and are now exploring the possibility that Trump may have obstructed justice.
On Tuesday, New York magazine published “19 Times President Trump May Have Obstructed Justice,” which examines all the government officials Trump has fired and the times he is alleged to have asked members of Congress or former FBI Director James Comey to kill the Russia investigation.
TheHill.com columnist Brent Budowsky wrote a piece Tuesday that said, “New evidence raises the danger that President Trump will ultimately be charged with obstruction of justice by Robert Mueller and his special counsel team.”
The pivot came after a tweet sent out from Trump’s account Saturday weighed in on the guilty plea by former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was charged with lying to the FBI about contacts with Russian officials.
“I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI,” the tweet said. “He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!”
I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 2, 2017
The comment was interpreted by the media to mean that Trump knew that Flynn lied to the FBI months ago when he fired Flynn in February. Because Comey testified in Congress that Trump had privately asked him about “letting Flynn go,” reports then wondered whether Trump had attempted to thwart the investigation.
Reacting to those reports, Trump’s personal lawyer John Dowd said it was actually he who authored Trump’s tweet, that he was writing in shorthand and he did not intend to suggest the president knew of Flynn lying to the FBI.
But Dowd also told some news outlets Monday that the president “cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer.” That comment further fueled the obstruction stories.
Mike Allen of Axios wrote that “Trump’s legal team is clearly setting the stage to say the president cannot be charged with any of the core crimes discussed in the Russia probe: collusion and obstruction.”
On CNN, anchor Jake Tapper said that if Trump knew of Flynn’s lying, it “raises serious questions of obstruction of justice.”
“With everything else that’s going on,” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said on her show, “today will always be the day that lawyers for the president of the United States abandoned their argument that the president didn’t obstruct justice and instead started to argue that it’s okay that the president obstructed justice.”
Lawrence O’Donnell, another MSNBC host, tweeted, “Trump is like a bank robber who looks up at the video camera to make sure the bank gets a good picture of him. Who else would tweet a confession to obstruction of justice?”
So far, Mueller’s team has issued two indictments and received two guilty pleas from Trump’s associates, though none have been for charges related to direct collusion.
Flynn’s plea document said that he had agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, leading to some speculation that he may share damning information about the Trump campaign.
Reporters asked Trump Saturday if he was worried and he said no.
“No, I’m not,” he said. “And what has been shown is no collusion. No collusion. There has been absolutely no collusion. So we’re very happy.”