Update: More Memos, More Obstruction

Not even a week later, the story about the Comey memos has taken a more serious turn; it is no longer about a conflict of credibility between former FBI Director James Comey and President Donald Trump. It has been reported that, in addition to the Comey request, Trump also asked the Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and Director of the NSA Admiral Michael Rogers in separate instances to intervene on the White House’s behalf. Trump specifically asked them to deny the existence of any collusion with Russian interests during the 2016 election. According to current and former officials, both Coats and Rogers refused, recognizing the impropriety of the request. The Rogers request and refusals was documented by a senior NSA official in a contemporaneous internal memo. We do not yet know whether Coats or the office of the DNI produced a memo regarding the Coats refusal. Any such memos would be within the scope of Special Counsel Mueller’s inquiry, as well as the various Congressional and FBI investigations, if they were to be requested.

There was also more a more direct request of intervention, posed by senior White House officials to top intelligence officials, described by one Washington Post source as “Can we ask him to shut down the investigation? Are you able to assist in this matter?” Comparisons to the Watergate scandal have thus far been easy to conjure, but that description is almost exactly what led to Nixon’s resignation, when he requested the CIA interfere with and shut down the FBI investigation of him.

Independent verification of Trump’s behavior is extremely serious. It transforms the story from an isolated incident, and turns it into a concerted effort to impede or nullify an investigation by the FBI. Whether he knows about the necessity of the independence of the intelligence services, or did it with utterly no idea of the historical or legal context. Not only does this make it much easier to prove obstruction of justice and abuse of power, but it lays clear the philosophies of this executive branch. This president believes that what he does is correct, solely because he is the one who did it, and that is a very dangerous road for the country to travel down.

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