President Donald Trump tweeted over the weekend that he fired Michael Flynn, his first national security adviser, because he lied to the FBI and to Vice President Mike Pence, sending the president’s critics and the media into overdrive about obstruction of justice.
The original rationale for firing Flynn that was offered by the White House is that Flynn lied to Pence about what he discussed in two phone calls with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition in December.
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Reuters reported, using an unnamed source, that then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates told White House counsel Don McGahn “that Flynn had told FBI agents the same thing he had told Pence.”
That would seem to lend weight to the allegation that Trump committed obstruction of justice when he fired FBI Director James Comey in May.
Cable news has been filled with speculation ever since.
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But Trump lawyer John Dowd told Axios that he, not the president, drafted the tweet that went out under the president’s name. Beyond that, while Yates alluded to the FBI’s interview of Flynn, she was cagey in her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in May about what exactly Flynn might have told the FBI.
“Mr. McGahn asked me how he did [in an interview with agents], and I declined to give him an answer to that,” she testified. “And we then walked through with Mr. McGahn essentially why we were telling them about this and the first thing we did was to explain to Mr. McGahn that the underlying conduct that General Flynn had engaged in was problematic, in and of itself.”
Yates added, however, that she told McGahn it was not her role to advise the White House what to do, whether or not to fire Flynn.
Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy said Monday on “The Laura Ingraham Show” that that crucial point “seems to me to have gotten no coverage.” He said it is important that Yates refused to elaborate on the interview.
“So we don’t have any reason to believe that Trump had a read on what the FBI’s judgment about the Flynn interview was,” he said. “And there was some reporting at the time that the FBI had concluded that Flynn had told the truth and to the extent that there may have been any discrepancies, it was because of honest confusion rather than criminality.”
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Flynn put those earlier suggestions to rest last week when he pleaded guilty to a felony count of lying to the FBI when he told agents that he and Kislyak had not talked about sanctions against Russia.
“They always choose the more sinister explanation for anything involving Trump,” said Noyes.
Rich Noyes, director of research at the Media Research Center, told LifeZette the media characterization of Trump’s tweet may turn out to be correct.
“The other possibility — and I’m stunned that this hasn’t gotten more attention — is that this is typical Trump braggadocio,” he said. “I think it’s at least likely that it’s a meaningless boast by Trump.”
Noyes noted that Trump at the time made no mention of Flynn’s lying to the FBI, only to Pence. That suggests the president may not have known the details about Flynn’s FBI interview, he said. But he said many reporters are predisposed to believe Trump did commit a crime.
“They always choose the more sinister explanation for anything involving Trump,” he said.
McCarthy said it is clear to him that special counsel Robert Mueller, appointed to investigate Russia’s possible influence on the 2016 presidential campaign and any criminal conduct by Americans, has turned his attention to potential obstruction of justice. Trump’s critics have seized on his firing of Comey after a one-on-one meeting in which the president reportedly asked the FBI director to back off on the Flynn investigation.
But McCarthy told Ingraham it is a difficult case to make because Trump, as president, has the ultimate authority over the executive branch.
“Even if we assume that Trump knew that Flynn lied to the FBI, Trump had the right to weigh in on the investigation,” he said. “He could have pardoned Flynn, which is the ultimate interference by a president of a criminal investigation. So I just think they’re making a mountain out of a molehill.”
Famed legal scholar Alan Dershowitz, of Harvard University, expressed the same view on “Fox & Friends” on Monday.
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John Dowd says he drafted this weekend’s Trump tweet, which many thought strengthened the case for obstruction: The tweet suggested Trump knew Flynn had lied to the FBI when he was fired, raising new questions about the later firing of FBI Director James Comey.
“You cannot charge a president with obstruction of justice for exercising his constitutional power … For obstruction of justice by the president, you need clearly illegal acts,” said Dershowitz.
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CNN justice correspondent Shimon Prokupecz acknowledged Monday it has not been firmly established that Trump knew the FBI concluded Flynn had lied and that Yates “wouldn’t specifically get into what was said” during the agents’ interview with Flynn.
“But look, there’s still a lot of confusion, because we keep hearing different things about what exactly did the president know,” he said.
For his part, Trump on Monday expressed sympathy for Flynn.
“Well, I feel badly for General Flynn. I feel very badly,” he told reporters on the White House South Lawn. “He’s led a very strong life. I feel very badly.”
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