Two days after Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey, he and his son Donald Trump Jr. participated in a session at Trump Tower, where Trump Jr offered up his cell phone number to a Russian lawyer and was told about her activities in the country.
Trump – who had promised during the campaign that Russia was “only trying to help” – then called Attorney General Jeff Sessions and asked for the phone number of the Mueller office director. Sessions obliged, and arranged for the future special counsel to call Sessions, who knew the president.
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Trump argues in a letter to James Comey that the personal meetings they had together set the stage for the 16 day period in which he says he did not review his taxes or meet with the attorney general. While Trump and Comey may have had some personal encounters, the question of what they discussed ultimately involves a process of compromise that Trump may not realize has taken place.
Trump may have been committed to covering up the benefit of Russian government money to the Trump Organisation but he may have been capable of being as disinclined as his predecessor to discourage the attorney general’s help with information requests as Mueller demands.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of this letter to the special counsel is Trump’s failure to apologize for using the tactics of obstruction of justice as a tool of his campaign to keep Comey in his job. “Nothing happened” was the message Trump included in a tweet in the hours after firing Comey, but other evidence suggests that he was using damaging statements of needlessly exaggerated importance to bring the director under the administration’s control.
Jed Shugerman, author of The Briefing, a book on obstruction of justice, told the Guardian that while the “apparent lack of remorse [from Trump] isn’t a big deal”, his assertion of innocence while continuing to attack the special counsel’s legitimacy raises serious issues that he sees as having grave implications for the ability of the president to fully carry out his duties.
Shugerman said the letter shows Trump believed his administration could “continue as is for decades to come” after Mueller is through with his work “and the impact of the investigations has been minimized or eliminated”.
The letter also “suggests an intentional understanding that the Mueller office will essentially become a passive subject of the investigations, or at least will be sidelined as long as Trump is in office”.
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Trump’s letter insists that Comey’s dismissal was lawful and consistent with standard department procedure and also alleges that the actions of the inspector general’s office and congressional inquiries are a “partisan attack” on the president and “a flagrant violation of the laws”.
This is a reference to the fact that the previous inspector general, the Republican Ken Praschak, wrote on behalf of the department in an unclassified report that Comey should never have announced in public that he was reopening an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails just two days before the election in which he was later to be re-elected. The letter also cites another inspector general report that addressed Christopher Steele’s emails as “discredited and refuted”.
However, Shugerman points out that the inspector general’s letter also says the bureau and the department were “under no special obligation” to respond to Steele’s requests for information about Russia. Moreover, Steele’s emails “were erroneously ascribed to Russia”, Shugerman said.
“Much to Trump’s satisfaction,” Shugerman writes, “Mueller’s investigation so far has been absolutely transparent and nonpartisan in behavior. However, Trump’s goal, obviously, is for the public to know as little as possible about Mueller’s actions – that is, Mueller is supposed to be subject to the authority of the Constitution.”
Trump’s letter, which includes no statements that Mueller or his office may have broken the law, could help set the stage for Mueller to reexamine past activity. Shugerman added that “a specter of cover-up” hangs over the letter’s opening words.
“In any criminal investigation, the inspector general has an investigation that matters,” he said. “The notion that there is some investigation being financed by the Obama administration that will be covered up certainly strikes me as a