Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to the New York Times as it prepared an article, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.”The claims were later shown to be misleading.Over the next three days, multiple accounts of the meeting were provided to the news media as public pressure mounted, with Trump Jr. ultimately acknowledging that he had accepted the meeting after receiving an email promising damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign.
This is damning both because it involves an effort arguably to cover up the real purpose of the meeting and, more important, because Trump was personally involved. This would be one powerful element in an obstruction-of-justice charge, if one is forthcoming, and certainly in considering impeachment, which would look beyond the four-corners of criminal statutes to see if Trump abused his office (crafting a misleading statement from the White House) for nefarious purposes (concealing a possibly incriminating meeting).
We already know Mueller’s team has interviewed White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, who was reportedly present during the back-and-forth discussions regarding the statement. He now may want to talk with former Trump legal spokesman Mark Corallo. Axios reports on the following excerpt from Wolff’s book: “Mark Corallo [former spokesman for Trump’s personal legal team] … privately confiding [to Wolff] that he believed the meeting on Air Force One represented a likely obstruction of justice — quit.”
Corallo is no crank. Matthew Miller, former Justice Department spokesman under President Barack Obama, says, “I don’t know him personally, but he has a reputation as a solid, honest guy.”
As a preliminary matter, it is critical to determine what precisely Corallo saw, what he directly observed and what gave him concern. If he has not already done so, Corallo will need to be interviewed. “Any obstruction case always involves the totality of all of the factual circumstances at play, so it’s always a mistake to read too much into any one reported fact,” Lawfare blog’s Ben Wittes tells me. “These cases are always about all of the facts in interaction with one another. That said, it certainly is interesting that one of the participants in that meeting reportedly believed it at the time to be a potential obstruction.”
Miller agrees that Corallo may be a key witness. “I think it’s clear that Mueller will be reaching out to talk to Corallo soon, if he hasn’t already, to find out what led him to draw that conclusion,” Miller says. “Corallo’s opinion isn’t so much relevant as the underlying facts leading him to believe the president committed obstruction are.” He adds, “Corollo was hired by Trump’s legal team and they will likely try to claim his interactions are covered by attorney-client privilege, but we have already seen Mueller obtain testimony from one spokesperson in this case, when he subpoenaed [Paul] Manafort’s spokesman to the grand jury.” Moreover, by talking openly about the drafting sessions and including non-lawyers, there’s a good chance any privilege was waived.
The second important tidbit Wolff reported involves Stephen K. Bannon’s opinion that “the chance that Don Jr. did not walk these jumos [Russian officials] up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero.” No evidence so far has come to light to suggest that is true. Trump has denied meeting these people or knowing anything about the meeting. Bannon is engaging in pure speculation but can be checked in multiple ways. He can be asked why he thinks this occurred. Not only the president’s son but also anyone in the vicinity of Trump’s office would need to be queried. At some point, the special counsel may get the chance to question Trump directly.
There is nothing illegal about Trump meeting with Russians, no matter how inappropriate or unwise it may have been. (As Bannon correctly points out, “Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad s—, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”) However, given the multiple denials from the Trump camp, lying about or concealing this incident again becomes one more unfortunate fact for Trump.
Just like the dossier, the book itself is not evidence. What it does do, however, is provide leads for Mueller, if he hasn’t already found them for himself. It also puts pressure on Senate Intelligence Committee investigators to get Corallo and others in to testify under oath. Frankly, these explosive items may explain why Trump wigged out over the past few days.
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