A week of media “scoops” about Donald Trump and Russia ends with two — one from the Washington Post, the other from the New York Times. The Post’s story is dubious. The Times’s story is troubling. Let’s deal with them in order.
First, here’s the Post:
The law enforcement investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign has identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest, showing that the probe is reaching into the highest levels of government, according to people familiar with the matter.
The senior White House adviser under scrutiny by investigators is someone close to the president, according to these people, who would not further identify the official.
I was going to write a lengthy “lawsplainer” outlining the problems with this story, but my friend (and podcast guest) Ken White beat me to it. Ken’s a criminal defense lawyer, former federal prosecutor, and legal blogger without peer. Here’s are the key tweets in his Twitter thread:
So today's WaPo story about a "person of interest" in the White House is a little odd. /1
— AlternativeGroupOfHats (@Popehat) May 19, 2017
It’s hard to think of statements better calculated to build the case that Trump fired Comey to disrupt the FBI investigation into his administration’s ties with Russia. As I’ve said before, no single piece of evidence has thus far been conclusive (and each piece is vulnerable to its own rebuttals), but the evidence taken together is starting to build a case that looks an awful lot like this: First, Trump — frustrated at the FBI’s investigation — strongly hinted to James Comey that he should clear Michael Flynn. Second, Trump got angry when Comey not only ignored his suggestion but instead publicly confirmed the investigation’s existence. Third, Trump terminated Comey in the hope that it would ease the pressure on his administration.
Moreover, there’s evidence that he knew his actions were suspect. He allegedly asked the vice president and attorney general to leave the room before talking to Comey about ending the Flynn investigation, and when he fired Comey, he justified it with a blatantly pretextual and false cover story.
This is a damaging portrait. If Hillary Clinton was faced with the same facts and allegations, Republican talk of impeachment would be thick in the air. As it is, impeachment talk from either side of the aisle is premature and overblown, at least so far. When witnesses actually get under oath — and the public sees actual documents — a very different picture may emerge. For now, however, there’s more than enough smoke to not only justify further investigation but to reinforce the wisdom of selecting a special counsel to conduct a competent, thorough, and reasonably independent inquiry. The Times story does not help Trump.