Thursday, November 30, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He denied trying to get Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee to end their investigation into his Russia connections.

The New York Times reported tonight that this summer, Trump contacted the Republican senators on the committee investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 elections--and hence Trump himself. The sources for the story were the Republican lawmakers themselves and their aides. 

Sen. Richard Burr (R-MO) said that Trump had asked him "something along the lines of, ‘I hope you can conclude this as quickly as possible.’” Burr blamed Trump's inexperience for what, on its face, is a highly improper and likely illegal attempt by a president to obstruct Congress. Other senators, some of whom were unwilling to go on the record, were more openly alarmed.

But the Times article casts doubt on the likelihood that Trump's lobbying was done out of ignorance of the law. The language is almost identical to Trump's demand of former FBI Director James Comey when he asked for the investigation into Michael Flynn be shut down. And just as he did with Comey, Trump was careful to make his demands without his senior staff present. (Consciousness of guilt is one element of an obstruction of justice charge, and can be demonstrated if the person accused of it tried to avoid having witnesses to the obstructive act.)

Today, a Trump spokesperson said that "the White House has been cooperative with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s inquiry and the President at no point has attempted to apply undue influence on committee members." It was not clear whether Trump was claiming that the Republican senators cited were lying about the entire matter, or simply about what they reported him saying.

Why is this a problem?

  • At some point, "I have no idea of what I should or shouldn't be doing" stops being a valid excuse for inappropriate or criminal acts committed by the President of the United States.