Feb 24

Obstruction of Justice

The first charge in the articles of impeachment against President Richard M. Nixon was obstruction of justice:

Subsequent thereto, Richard M. Nixon, using the powers of his high office, engaged personally and through his subordinates and agents in a course of conduct or plan designed to delay, impede, and obstruct the investigation of such unlawful entry; to cover up, conceal and protect those responsible; and to conceal the existence and scope of other unlawful covert activities. …Wherefore Richard M. Nixon, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office.

—Article I, Passed By the House of Representatives, July 27, 1974.

It was after Nixon that the Justice Department issued strong rules about contact between the White House and department, which includes the FBI, regarding impending investigations. They did so again in 2007 after Attorney General Alberto González was forced to resign. Attorney General Eric holder issued another memo in 2009 (pdf) which clarified guidelines for White House and department contacts to ensure “impartial and insulated from political influence” and that its “investigatory and prosecutorial powers be exercised free from partisan consideration.”

“Initial communications between the [Justice] Department and the White House concerning pending or contemplated criminal investigations or cases will involve only the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General, from the side of the Department, and the Counsel to the President, the Principal Deputy Counsel to the President, the President, or the Vice President from the side of the White House.”

Once again the White house has violated restrictions when White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asked the FBI to refute reports about alleged communications between the Trump team and Russia during the election. The story was broke by CNN on Thursday:

The FBI rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump’s associates and Russians known to US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign, multiple US officials briefed on the matter tell CNN.
But a White House official said late Thursday that the request was only made after the FBI indicated to the White House it did not believe the reporting to be accurate.
White House officials had sought the help of the bureau and other agencies investigating the Russia matter to say that the reports were wrong and that there had been no contacts, the officials said. The reports of the contacts were first published by The New York Times and CNN on February 14. [..]

The discussions between the White House and the bureau began with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on the sidelines of a separate White House meeting the day after the stories were published, according to a US law enforcement official.

The White House initially disputed that account, saying that McCabe called Priebus early that morning and said The New York Times story vastly overstates what the FBI knows about the contacts.

But a White House official later corrected their version of events to confirm what the law enforcement official described.

The same White House official said that Priebus later reached out again to McCabe and to FBI Director James Comey asking for the FBI to at least talk to reporters on background to dispute the stories. A law enforcement official says McCabe didn’t discuss aspects of the case but wouldn’t say exactly what McCabe told Priebus.

Comey rejected the request for the FBI to comment on the stories, according to sources, because the alleged communications between Trump associates and Russians known to US intelligence are the subject of an ongoing investigation.

The White house would like nothing more than this scandal disappear. Once again Donald Trump took to twitter to denounce the press for reporting on stories that put them in a negative light, calling it “fake news.” Someone needs to tell him that he is just making it worse for himself. It just makes them look guilty. Priebus’s action has now sparked even more public interest in Trump’s Russian connection.

Charlie Pierce explains why Priebus should have to resign: and AG Jeff Sessions needs to recuse himself

maybe I was marked forever back in the John Sirica Days, but this seems like something that could be the beginning of the end of the end of the beginning. Or something. You can’t use the FBI like your own private spin team. You can’t have an office in the White House and even think you can do that. If the idea ever crosses your mind, you should immediately hand in your hard pass, walk out to Pennsylvania Avenue, and catch the first bus to the nervous hospital. God only knows if it was actually legal for them to do this, since nobody’s really sure what “adjustments” Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III has wrought in the Department of Justice regulations since he took over—or since the story broke at around 7:30 last night. But legality is far too narrow a metric for a fck-up of this magnitude. As RN used to say, let me make this perfectly clear.

You can’t use the goddamn FBI to squash news stories you don’t like any more than you can send the FBI out to shoot the guy who dented your fender outside the goddamn pro shop. Do you think the guys with the badges are valet parking attendants or your own private security goons? And you can’t do it when the FBI is already investigating you on suspicions of the very same conduct detailed in the stories you’re trying to squash. What in the hell is wrong with you, man?

First of all, Priebus has to go. Today. Even if there’s nothing illegal in what happened—and even, as seems completely implausible, the request was made out of simple anger at inaccurate reporting instead of abject terror that accurate reporting was getting too close to where the borscht got made last year—Priebus is revealed as a guy who should not be allowed to spread butter with anything sharper than his thumb, let alone run the staff of any White House, including Camp Runamuck. This is, or ought to be, a career-ender.

Second, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III shouldn’t be allowed within an area code of any investigation of the contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. (I suspect there might be several of these.) He’s hopelessly compromised.

Third, come on, man. You don’t go this far out on a limb because you’re pissed about fake stories. Not even this White House is that stupid. You take this kind of long chance because you believe that there’s something out there that’s worse than being found to be using the FBI to ratfck the New York Times.

Speaking with MSNBC host Chris Hayes, former Justice Department Spokesperson Matt Miller says White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus “has to go” if the report is true.