Robert Mueller’s special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election now includes a probe into whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice, officials reported. Mueller’s team is interviewing senior intelligence officials as a part of the newly widened investigation. This is a major shift in the almost one-year-old FBI investigation. The special counsel will also be looking for any evidence of possible financial crimes among the president’s associates.
The former FBI Director, James Comey, testified recently that Trump was not under FBI investigation. After Comey’s testimony, the president tweeted that he felt “total and complete vindication.” Apparently, soon after Trump fired Comey, the FBI investigation changed to include the president.
According to sources speaking on the condition of anonymity (of course), Daniel Coats, the director of national intelligence, Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, and Richard Ledgett, the recently departed deputy of Rogers, have already agreed to be interviewed by Mueller’s investigators. The investigation is obviously cloaked in secrecy, so it is unclear if there are others that have been or will be interviewed. The NSA has issued a statement that it will “fully cooperate with the special counsel” and refused to comment further. Coats and Ledgett both declined to comment, and the White House is now referring all questions about the Russia investigation to Trump’s personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz. A spokesperson for Kasowitz recently said, “The FBI leak of information regarding the president is outrageous, inexcusable and illegal.”
Coats, Rogers and Ledgett will voluntarily be interviewed, but it is not known whether they will share their full conversations with Trump. It is possible that they will do what other top officials have done and invoke executive privilege. Although this is a precarious step because the Supreme Court ruled during Watergate that officials cannot use privilege to withhold evidence in a criminal prosecution.
According to the Washington Post, one of the exchanges between these leaders and the president took place on March 22. Coats had just been confirmed by the Senate to serve as the nation’s top intelligence officer and was attending a briefing at the White House with other government agencies. When the briefing was finished, according to the Washington Post, Trump asked everyone to leave except for Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Apparently, Trump asked Coats to intervene with Comey so that the FBI would back off from its focus on national security adviser Michael Flynn. Several days after this exchange, Trump called both Coats and Rogers asking them to issue public statements denying that any evidence of coordination between his campaign and the Russian government existed. Both men refused to comply with Trump’s request. Ledgett supposedly wrote an internal NSA memo documenting the president’s phone call with Rogers.
Also at issue is Comey’s testimony that he was fired because of his investigation into Russia and possible collusion with Trump campaign officials. “It’s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,” Comey said. “I was fired, in some way, to change — or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted,” Comey said that it would be up to Mueller to determine whether the president crossed any legal lines.
Credit: Washington Post