By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (6/24/19)
Dear Fellow Readers,
On Saturday June 22 we did a group reading of Volume II of the Mueller Report. A group of readers took turns and found the experience rewarding. Each of us commented on the depth of understanding gained over and above news reporting or even reading the Report solo compared to a group reading experience.
The power of the experience leads me to share one of the examples of Mueller’s case for obstruction against Trump.
Volume II is described in the Report as:
“Our obstruction-of-justice inquiry focused on a series of actions by the President that related to the Russian-interference investigations, including the President’s conduct towards the law enforcement officials overseeing the investigations and the witnesses to relevant events.” (Vol. II, page 3)
The Report considers the investigation of ten instances of Trump obstruction. The ninth is: I. The President Orders McGahn to Deny that the President Tried to Fire the Special Counsel (Vol. II, page 113)
This is an instructive investigative account as Trump is currently both trying to keep former White House Counsel Don McGahn from testifying before Congress and at the same time, accusing McGahn of lying to the Office of Special Counsel and thus perjuring himself. Trump’s behavior easily shows Trump is lying and continuing to obstruct, this time by refusing to allow McGahn to set the public record straight.
The report of these events happens against a backdrop of Trump knowing that McGahn had already told the Special Counsel about these events.
Using the text directly from the Report:
“In late January 2018, the media reported that in June 2017 the President had ordered McGahn to have the Special Counsel fired based on purported conflicts of interest but McGahn had refused, saying he would quit instead. After the story broke, the President, through his personal counsel and two aides, sought to have McGahn deny that he had been directed to remove the Special Counsel. Each time he was approached, McGahn responded that he would not refute the press accounts because they were accurate in reporting on the President’s effort to have the Special Counsel removed.” (Vol. II, page 113)
A January 25, 2018 report by the New York Times reported in June 2017 Trump had “ordered McGahn to have the Department of Justice fire the Special Counsel”.
The story is corroborated by evidence, but Trump when asked by reporters responded in his typical dismissal over news that has him looking bad: “Fake news, folks. Fake news. A typical New York Times fake story”. (Vol. II, page 113)
Part of the color that comes through the Report is the persistence and anger Trump directs at anyone around him that does not do his bidding or even happens to be a bystander. On February 5, 2018 Trump was still incensed and complained to “Porter (former White House Staff Secretary) that the article was “bullshit” and he had not sought to terminate the Special Counsel”, saying, “that McGahn leaked to the media to make himself look good.” While still focused on McGahn’s need to “create a record to make clear the President never directed McGahn to fire the Special Counsel”, Trump referred to McGahn as a “lying bastard”. (Vol. II, page 115)
Trump went a step further, saying “If he doesn’t write a letter, then maybe I’ll have to get rid of him.”
On February 6, 2018 Trump and McGahn met in the Oval Office. Trump and McGahn argued about the specifics of what Trump had ordered and McGahn’s persistent refusal to do a “correction”. What follows is classic Trump:
“The President also asked McGahn in the meeting why he had told Special Counsel’s Office investigators that the President had told him to have the Special Counsel removed.822 McGahn responded that he had to and that his conversations with the President were not protected by attorney-client privilege.823 The President then asked, “What about these notes? Why do you take notes? Lawyers don’t take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes.”824 McGahn responded that he keeps notes because he is a “real lawyer” and explained that notes create a record and are not a bad thing.825 The President said, “I’ve had a lot of great lawyers, like Roy Cohn. He did not take notes.” (Vol. II, page 117)
The Mueller Report is highly structured; each instance of obstruction is then followed by a section of Analysis. This instance of obstruction is one where legal experts agree that Trump could be successfully convicted of obstruction. The Intent portion of the Analysis says this: (Vol. II, page 120)
“Substantial evidence indicates that in repeatedly urging McGahn to dispute that he was ordered to have the Special Counsel terminated, the President acted for the purpose of influencing McGahn’s account in order to deflect or prevent further scrutiny of the President’s conduct towards the investigation.”
Dodging and weaving
Does this account ring true for your understanding of Trump, his words, his tweets, his actions, his threats, his insults? While that’s worthy of reflection, the Mueller Report is underpinned by extensive documentation of evidence against Trump.
Consider this instance from the Report against current news reports: Hope Hicks’ Testimony Was Genuinely Worse Than Useless.
Hicks is mentioned in the Mueller Report “over 100 times”. Appearing with a gaggle of Department of Justice lawyers, she testified for eight hours which can be summarized as: “Eight. Long. Hours. Of Nothing.” The overriding response would be “objection” through one of the pack of lawyers present.
Or consider this: Who Is Felix Sater? Convicted Felon Who Pushed Plan For A Trump Tower In Moscow Misses House Hearing.
Felix Sater is a long-time Trump business associate who was chasing a Trump Moscow Tower deal with Russians alongside long-time and convicted Trump lawyer Michael Cohen as far into the Trump campaign as June 2016 against a backdrop of Trump claims of “no business deals in Russia”. Sater had promised to answer all questions but “failed to show Friday” after “feeling ill and slept through his alarm”. As a result, “the House Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena”.
Turning specifically to Don McGahn who has already defied testifying before the House Judiciary Committee as a result of being blocked by Trump…
That’s right, Trump now acts as the spokesperson while McGahn remains silent.
“ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos Trump about McGahn’s testimony in an interview this week. Trump called his former counsel a liar. “The story on that very simply, No. 1, I was never going to fire Mueller. I never suggested firing Mueller,” he said. When asked why McGahn would lie, Trump said, “Because he wanted to make himself look like a good lawyer.” Pressed again, Trump denied ever having told McGahn to fire Mueller.”
Trump did not manage to silence all voices this past week. Writer E. Jean Carroll accused Trump of sexual assault through a ‘New York’ cover story. Carroll is now the 16th woman to accuse Trump “of sexual misconduct”.
While Trump still seems like “the guy that gets away with it”, his associates have not been so lucky. Long-time political adviser and GOP operative Roger Stone could well find himself in violation of a “court-imposed gag order” based on his continued use of social media as recently as this past week. Judge Amy Berman Jackson has the option of requiring Stone jailed.
But the taste of this week is sour – the after-taste of justice not served.
Trump, a man who sees himself as ‘above the law’, is using the law to frustrate all efforts to prove the case(s) against him.
We shall see if his luck holds, whether he can successfully run ahead of accountability for his for crimes.