Donald Trump has denied he tried to fire (paywall) special counsel Robert Mueller in June last year. But the reports have given extra ballast to accusations of obstruction of justice over the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe.
The fact that this took place just a month after he ousted FBI director James Comey, “shows that the pattern of obstruction is a strong case because this is yet another indicator of his intent to derail the investigation,” Georgetown law professor Carrie Cordero argued on the Brookings Institute’s Lawfare podcast yesterday (Jan. 25).
The main events known to the public that make up the argument for obstruction took place between January and July 2017. On July 15, Trump hired specialist white-collar crime lawyer Ty Cobb, who reportedly implemented a strategy of full cooperation with the FBI investigation. Since then, Trump’s most controversial actions towards the probe seem to have been curbed. Here’s a timeline of the biggest events during that six-month period.
Jan. 27: Trump asks Comey for “loyalty”
With Comey heading the investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russia ties, Trump invited Comey to dinner, Comey writes in Congressional testimony. The conversation made Comey feel that its purpose was “at least in part to an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship.” He asked him several times for loyalty, saying, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,” and again, “I need loyalty,” Comey writes.
Feb. 14: Trump asks Comey to “let” the Flynn case “go”
After Comey briefed Trump on counterterrorism in the Oval Office, the president cornered him, saying, “I want to talk about Mike Flynn,” Comey writes. He reportedly asked, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Comey says he only responded with, “he is a good guy.”
Flynn was being investigated for lying about his contacts with Russian officials. He later flipped, pleading guilty to four counts of lying to the FBI in exchange for cooperation with Mueller’s investigation into the campaign.
March: Trump reportedly asked the White House counsel to pressure Sessions not to recuse himself
When attorney general Jeff Sessions was considering recusing himself from the Russia investigation, Trump asked White House counsel Don McGahn to lobby him not to do so, according to the New York Times (paywall). When he was unsuccessful, Trump “erupted in anger,” the Times writes, and reportedly said he wanted his attorney general to safeguard him, asking, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” (Cohn spent years as Trump’s fixer in New York.)
Between March and May 9: Trump reportedly drafted a letter to Comey calling the investigation “fabricated and politically motivated”
White House aides stopped him from sending the letter, according to The New York Times. On several occasions, he asked Comey to make public the fact that he was not under investigation, but Comey refused to do so.
May 9: Trump fires Comey
Trump fired Comey (paywall) ostensibly for his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. The case for that misconduct was made by deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, but Trump later told NBC that he was going to fire Comey “regardless of the recommendation.”
He added: “When I decided to just do it I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.’”
June: Tries to fire Mueller
White House counsel Don McGahn reportedly threatened to resign (paywall) if Trump did so, causing Trump to step back from the brink. Trump’s reported reasons for doing so were bizarre accusations of conflicts of interest, including that Mueller had ended his membership of one of Trump’s golf clubs over a fee raise. Mueller has reportedly interviewed current and former White House officials over the episode.
July 8: Trump reportedly dictated a false statement about his son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer
When the New York Times approached Trump’s team for comment on Don Jr.’s now-notorious Trump Tower meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, his team wanted to be transparent and get ahead of the story, according to the Washington Post (paywall). Instead, the Post reports, Trump dictated a false statement, saying that they “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children.” In his book Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff writes that Trump’s advisers believe this was an “explicit attempt to throw sand into the investigation’s gears,” leading a spokesman to quit over qualms that it amounted to obstruction of justice.
Mueller has been explicitly examining the statement, the Times reports (paywall).