Trump Tried To Order Prosecution Of Comey And Clinton, Was Warned Of Impeachment
President Trump is embracing his worst authoritarian impulses and may have already committed what legal analysts see as impeachable offenses.
The Lede: Moving to prosecute political opponents, appointing a sycophant to the highest law enforcement position in government, and efforts to shut down an investigation that involves your own potential wrongdoing—this is behavior usually relegated to authoritarian regimes. The kind of regimes that would kill journalists like Jamal Khashoggi. This is neither hyperbole nor is it a description of a country in the east. This is Donald Trump’s America in 2018.
Today, The New York Times reported that President Trump’s intention to prosecute former FBI Director James Comey and his former political opponent Hillary Clinton went beyond rhetoric:
President Trump told the White House counsel in the spring that he wanted to order the Justice Department to prosecute two of his political adversaries: his 2016 challenger, Hillary Clinton, and the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey, according to two people familiar with the conversation.
The lawyer, Donald F. McGahn II, rebuffed the president, saying that he had no authority to order a prosecution. Mr. McGahn said that while he could request an investigation, that too could prompt accusations of abuse of power. To underscore his point, Mr. McGahn had White House lawyers write a memo for Mr. Trump warning that if he asked law enforcement to investigate his rivals, he could face a range of consequences, including possible impeachment.
The wording here is key. It does not say Trump requested to order an “investigation.” It says he sought to order outright “prosecution.” The article went on to reveal that not only did Trump attempt to make this request of McGahn (who immortalized the affair in memos and is a witness in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe), he continued to privately discuss it and mused about appointing a second special counsel to probe Comey and Clinton. And last year, Trump’s lawyers asked the Justice Department to investigate Comey’s role in the Clinton investigation (Comey is also a witness in Mueller’s obstruction probe). Important to note here that neither has been credibly accused of any crimes whatsoever.
Legal analysts like MSNBC’s Ari Melber framed the significance of this development.
Trump attempting to order the prosecution of Clinton and Comey is the most significant legal scandal to hit the White House since the report that Trump tried to get Mueller fired.
— Ari Melber (@AriMelber) November 20, 2018
Trump’s attempt to get Mueller fired was wrong and might have been unlawful — but there is some legitimate debate there — this alleged attempt to prosecute a political opponent and witness in an obstruction probe would be blatantly unconstitutional.
— Ari Melber (@AriMelber) November 20, 2018
On MSNBC, Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks said that Trump’s request itself opens him up to impeachment. Judging by the fact the second Article of Impeachment against Richard Nixon was for Abuse of Power, her opinion here should be noted.
Shortly after this story broke, CNN reported a similar story (which The New York Times later confirmed):
President Donald Trump on multiple occasions raised with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Matt Whitaker, who was then-chief of staff to Jeff Sessions, whether the Justice Department was progressing in investigating Hillary Clinton, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Whitaker is now the acting Attorney General and wrote an op-ed claiming he would prosecute Clinton, has called for it on many occasions, and has been critical of Mueller’s probe. It appears President Trump appointed someone who would not only suppress the Mueller investigation but would prosecute his political opponents.
Needless to say, this fits within a pattern of behavior on the part of President Trump and surely helps to further build corrupt intent in Mueller’s obstruction probe.
The Context: President Trump’s eagerness to imprison his political opponents has been no secret. Trump told Hillary Clinton on the debate stage that she’d be in jail if he won the election and openly tweeted about the need to jail both Clinton and Comey throughout his presidency. And now, we have reports that appear to confirm he is eager to act on those autocratic impulses.
And when it comes to obstruction of justice, President Trump has been trying to undermine the Russia probe, that he is a subject of, from the day he took office. There is a long timeline of Trump’s obstructive moves. To name a few, Trump fired Comey and then admitted it was because of the Russia investigation, tried to fire Mueller on multiple occasions, tried to get Attorney General Jeff Sessions to un-recuse himself from the Russia probe and then fired him. Trump’s paranoia over Mueller’s investigation has been depicted in multiple reports in recent weeks, and publicly documented in his tweets.
Trump’s Republican allies in the House and conservative media have also moved to undermine the Russia investigation. This effort has extended into efforts to discredit the DOJ, FBI, and the U.S. Intelligence Community as a whole.
President Trump is also plagued by multiple other federal investigations. Here’s a list of them:
- Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference, potential conspiracy with the Trump campaign, and obstruction.
- The Southern District of New York’s investigation into Trump’s former lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen (which Rosenstein and Mueller sparked by passing their findings over to them, leading to Trump becoming an unindicted co-conspirator in illegal hush money payments)
- The Manhattan District Attorney’s investigation into the Trump Organization
- The New York Attorney General’s investigation into the Trump Foundation
- Emoluments clause lawsuits
- Summer Zervos’ lawsuit
The Analysis: In order to be guilty of obstruction of justice, one doesn’t have to successfully obstruct an investigation. The law clearly states that anyone who “endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice, shall be (guilty of an offense).”
Today’s reports take on a new meaning because it is being published in a post-midterm reality. The Democratically controlled House of Representatives will soon have the power to actually act on this. The House Judiciary Committee is responsible for starting the impeachment process, but that likely wouldn’t occur until Mueller’s reports are finalized. But needless to say, they have numerous leads to follow. And soon-to-be House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) will have his hands full.
One final note: if this is what we know publicly, imagine what Robert Mueller knows.