This is What Obstruction Looks Like: All the President's Criminals
Threats, praise, support, attacks and alleged discussions about pardons were part of President Donald Trump’s methods in dealing with potential witnesses in the Russia investigation.
This summary of possible obstruction of justice by the president is drawn from information found in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s attack on our election.
In the case of his former Security Advisor Michael Flynn, he used both hardball and softer approaches.
The hardball came in a voicemail and subsequent telephone conversation between John Dowd, who at the time was Trump’s attorney, and lawyers for Flynn.
Flynn began cooperating with the special counsel’s office and withdrew from a joint defense agreement he had with the president on Nov. 22, 2017. Flynn’s counsel told Dowd that his client could no longer have confidential communications with the White House or president.
That night Dowd left a voicemail for Flynn’s attorneys. It was referenced in Mueller’s report. A full transcript was recently released and is as follows:
Hey, Rob, uhm, this is John again. Uh, maybe, I-I-I'm-I'm sympathetic; I understand your situation, but let me see if I can't ... state it in ... starker terms. If you have ... and it wouldn't surprise me if you've gone on to make a deal with, and, uh, work with the government, uh ... I understand that you can't join the joint defense; so that's one thing. If, on the other hand, we have, there's information that … implicates the President, then we've got a national security issue, or maybe a national security issue, I don't know ... some issue, we got to-we got to deal with, not only for the President, but for the country. So ... uh ... you know, then-then, you know, we need some kind of heads up. Um, just for the sake of ... protecting all our interests, if we can, without you having to give up any ... confidential information. So, uhm, and if it's the former, then, you know, remember what we've always said about the President and his feelings toward Flynn and, that still remains, but-Well, in any event, uhm, let me know, and, uh, I appreciate your listening and taking the time. Thanks, Pal.
Flynn’s attorneys returned the call the next day and “reiterated that they were no longer in a position to share information under any sort of privilege.”
According to Flynn’s attorneys, Dowd was “indignant and vocal in his disagreement.” Dowd said that “he interpreted what they said to him as a reflection of Flynn's hostility toward the president and that he planned to inform Trump of that interpretation.
“Flynn 's attorneys understood that statement to be an attempt to make them reconsider their position because the President's personal counsel believed that Flynn would be disturbed to know that such a message would be conveyed to the President.”
Dowd has denied that the voicemail was a bid to obstruct Flynn’s cooperation. Mueller didn’t seek to interview Dowd on this matter because of attorney-client privilege issues.
Flynn eventually pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI about his conversations with Sergey Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the United States.
Trump privately asked advisors to pass messages to Flynn conveying that he still cared about him and encouraging him to stay strong.
This included an alleged telephone conversation between Flynn and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a White House advisor, in which Kushner said “You know the President respects you. The president cares about you. I’ll get the president to send out a positive tweet about you later.”
Trump’s conduct towards Michael Cohen, a former Trump Organization executive, changed from praise for Cohen when he falsely minimized the president’s involvement in the Trump Tower Moscow project, to castigation of Cohen when he became a cooperating witness.
While preparing for his congressional testimony, Cohen had extensive discussions with the president’s personal counsel who, according to Cohen, said that Cohen should “stay on message” and not contradict the president.
After the FBI searched Cohen’s home and office in April 2018, the president publicly asserted that Cohen would not “flip,” contacted him directly to tell him to “stay strong,” and privately passed messages of support to him.
Cohen said he discussed pardons with the President's personal counsel and believed that if he stayed on message he would be taken care of. But after Cohen began cooperating with the government in the summer of 2018, the President publicly criticized him, called him a "rat," and suggested that his family members had committed crimes.
As for former campaign manager Paul Manafort, during his prosecution and while the jury was deliberating in his criminal trial, Trump praised Manafort in public, said he was being treated unfairly, and declined to rule out a pardon.
After Manafort was convicted, the president called Manafort “a brave man” for refusing to “break” and said that “lipping … almost ought to be outlawed.”