Trump isn’t subtle. He uses big sticks and tantalizing carrots. His sticks include tweets attacking potential witnesses in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. Those open and notorious attempts to intimidate are one of the many ways that Trump has been obstructing justice.
Last week, Trump used carrots — signaling to those who remain loyal to him personally the prospect of a pardon down the road. He even claimed the power to pardon himself. It was a remarkable week for the Trump-Russia Timeline.
In August 2017, Trump bypassed the years-long pardon application process to grant one to former Maricopa Country Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He had been convicted of criminal contempt of court for brutally racist treatment of undocumented immigrants. Some speculated that Trump’s pardon was a “message” to potential witnesses in the Trump-Russia investigation — a natural follow-up to Trump’s April 25 message to Mike Flynn: “Stay strong.”
But as with all outrageous Trump actions, the controversy over Arpaio’s pardon disappeared as his new outrageous acts took its place. By May 1, 2018, Mike Pence was saying that he was honored by the presence of then-GOP Senate candidate Arpaio — a “tireless champion of the rule of law.”
In 2007, President George W. Bush received enormous pressure from Vice President Dick Cheney to pardon Cheney’s former chief of staff “Scooter” Libby after convictions for perjury and obstruction of justice. That’s even closer to the Trump-Russia situation than Arpaio’s because:
1) Crimes similar to Libby’s — perjury and obstruction of justice — are the subject of Mueller’s investigation;
2) A special counsel investigation led to Libby’s conviction; and
3) The special counsel who prosecuted Libby successfully was then-US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald — appointed to do so by then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey. Fitzgerald is now in private practice and represents Comey.
Dinesh, Martha, and Rod
In 2014, conservative author, commentator, and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza pleaded guilty to campaign finance fraud. But even without a pending application, Trump pardoned him on May 31, 2018. It’s no coincidence that campaign finance laws are elements of Mueller’s investigation.
As he announced D’Souza’s pardon, Trump said he was contemplating similar relief for Martha Stewart. She was convicted in 2004 of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to federal investigators. Sound familiar?
So is the name of the US Attorney in Manhattan who gave prosecutors the green light to proceed with the case against Stewart: James Comey. (Stewart had also appeared with Trump on The Apprentice.)
On the same day, Trump also floated commuting the public corruption sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. He was convicted on 18 felony counts and sentenced to 14 years in prison. Blago — another alumnus of The Apprentice — probably got Trump’s attention with his May 28, 2018 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, “I’m in Prison for Practicing Politics.”
Like Trump, Blagojevich called his prosecution a “witch hunt.” The US attorney who prosecuted that case was Patrick Fitzgerald.
Roger Stone Gets It
Trump is working his way though a checklist. It’s a mix of crimes that he and his compatriots may have committed (Flynn, Gates, and Papadopoulos have confessed to giving false statements to federal investigators), along with individuals who have connections to one of Trump’s most formidable enemies: James Comey. The message is clear, and Roger Stone said that he, for one, has received it:
“It has to be a signal to Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort and even Robert S. Mueller III: Indict people for crimes that don’t pertain to Russian collusion and this is what could happen. The special counsel has awesome powers, as you know, but the president has even more awesome powers.”
The same day, Stone told ABC News, “I will never betray this president. Under no circumstances will I bear false witness against President Trump.”
There are many ways to obstruct justice. Trump is utilizing all of them. And he’s not done yet.
Postscript on Sekulow and A Dangerous Memo
Recall that in July 2017, Sekulow took to the airwaves, proclaiming repeatedly that Trump — his client — had no involvement whatsoever with Donald Trump Jr.’s misleading statement to the The New York Times about the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting that included Don Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Russians promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
Last week, the Times obtained the Jan. 29, 2018 memo that Sekulow and his then-co-counsel, John Dowd, wrote on Trump’s behalf to special counsel Robert Mueller:
“[T]he President dictated a short but accurate response to the New York Times article on behalf of his son, Donald Trump, Jr.”
From “no involvement whatsoever” to having “dictated” Don Jr.’s statement. More proof that either Sekulow lied publicly for Trump, or Trump lied to him.
Meanwhile, the rest of the 20-page memo that Sekulow and Dowd sent to Mueller is an embarrassment to the legal profession. For example, it relies on the wrong statute to claim that Trump could not have obstructed justice in his conversations with then-FBI Director James Comey about “letting Flynn go.” They ignore altogether the correct statute, which destroys their argument.
In substance and style, the memo’s legal positions would be laughable, if they weren’t so frightening. With respect to the Trump-Russia investigation, Sekulow and Dowd suggest that Trump can do whatever he wants and the law cannot touch him. Trump’s enablers with legal degrees have become a mortal threat to democracy and the rule of law.
Where is Emmet Flood? As his reputation slides down Mt. Trump, he is nowhere to be found. But history will record his guilt by association. Flood’s sins of omission are no less damning than Sekulow’s sins of commission.
Here are the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline:
DEC. 15, 2016: Bannon, Flynn and Kushner Meet Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi; Gerson Surfaces; Nader Nearby (revision of previous entry)
JAN. 11, 2017: Prince Meets With Putin Associate in the Seychelles (revision of previous entry)
MAR. 4, 2017: Trumps Asks Sessions To “Unrecuse” Himself
AUG. 25, 2017: Trump Pardons Arpaio; Warner Concerned About “Message”
NOV. 21, 2017: Trump’s Lawyers Talk With Mueller About Possible Trump Interview
JAN. 8, 2018: Trump’s Lawyers Talk Again With Mueller about Possible Trump Interview
JAN. 10, 2018: Trump Waffles on Mueller Interview (revision of previous entry)
JAN. 29, 2018: Trump’s Lawyers Resist Mueller Interview
APR. 13, 2018: Trump Pardons Libby
MAY 29, 2018: Gowdy Defends FBI and DOJ
MAY 30, 2018: Trump Renews Attack on Sessions
MAY 30-31, 2018: Trump’s Twitter Rampage Over Russia Investigation Continues
MAY 31, 2018: Trump Issues Another Pardon; Hints About More With A Comey Connection
MAY 31, 2018: Stone: Trump Pardons “Send a Message”; Stone Receives It
JUNE 1, 2018: Trump Tweets About Mueller Investigation
JUNE 1-2, 2018: Brennan Attacks Trump; Trump Tweets Back at Brennan and Mueller
JUNE 2, 2018: Trump Tweets In Advance of NYT Story
JUNE 3, 2018: Trump Tweets About Obstruction, Comey, Manafort, and Mueller