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Friday, April 13, 2018


Inopportunity knocks

by Tom Sullivan

Lewis "Scooter" Libby

Bloomberg's Natasha Bertrand last night raised my eyebrows when she casually suggested Donald Trump may have tried "bribing" people testifying to the grand jury. The reference was to the grand jury in the Russia investigation and a story NBC broke Thursday afternoon.

Special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigators decided they could move forward with a final report in the Russian election interference probe without interviewing President Donald Trump. Months of talks with the White House broke down after the FBI raid Monday of the office of Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. The prospect of the real estate baron lying to federal investigators about what they will already know from the Cohen files made Trump's sitting down for an interview with the FBI that much more risky.

Instead, investigators believe they already have enough to move forward to a report based on four findings suggesting obstruction of justice (emphasis mine):

Three sources familiar with the investigation said the findings Mueller has collected on Trump’s attempts to obstruct justice include: His intent to fire former FBI Director James Comey; his role in the crafting of a misleading public statement on the nature of a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son and Russians; Trump’s dangling of pardons before grand jury witnesses who might testify against him; and pressuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

Mueller would then likely send a confidential report to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Russia investigation. Rosenstein could decide whether to make the report public and send its findings to Congress. From there, Congress would then decide whether to begin impeachment proceedings against the president, said two of the sources.
The New York Times first reported in late March that in discussions with their attorneys now-former Trump attorney John Dowd had suggested pardons for former advisors Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort. The report raised questions of whether the Trump team "was offering pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation." It was not clear then whether Trump was aware of the pardons discussion beforehand.

As if to punctuate the point, ABC later reported later Thursday that Trump has already signed off on plans to issue a pardon to "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. A jury convicted Libby in 2007 of lying to the FBI and obstructing justice in the Valerie Plame affair. President George W. Bush later commuted Libby's sentence, but did not issue a pardon.

The Libby pardon has been months in the planning, reports ABC. But it gives the appearance the Trump White House offered Flynn and Manafort a presidential "Get Out Of Jail Free" card in exchange for noncooperation with the Mueller investigation. That the Libby story appears hours after news that pardons for those who might testify against Trump forms one basis for an obstruction of justice charge is at best inopportune.

Asha Rangappa, senior lecturer at Yale University and former FBI agent told Vox in March, "Attempting to use the pardon power in this manner could constitute obstruction of justice, witness tampering, or even bribery, and would be an abuse of power, plain and simple."

Trump's habit of buying people's silence appears to have prompted the FBI's raid of Cohen's office in the first place. It is his go-to move. He's just more skilled at doing it with funny money.

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