Republican antics concerning the memo drafted by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) threaten to damage our national security, the FBI and the entire congressional oversight process. Meanwhile, President Trump faces a constant drip-drip-drip of new revelations giving heft to a possible obstruction-of-justice charge.
The New York Times reports that the former spokesman for the Trump legal team, Mark Corallo, plans to tell the special counsel about a conference call with Trump and Hope Hicks in which she promised the incriminating emails concerning the Trump Tower meeting with Russians in June 2016 would never get out. (Hicks has herself been interviewed and is in legal peril if she did not tell the truth.) Hicks’s counsel denies the claim. If she said this, her actions might evidence a plan to destroy evidence or impede the investigation. Moreover, she may have given Trump confidence to cook up a phony explanation for the meeting. Corallo seems to have been the only honest man in sight. According to the report, he cut short the conversation, informed the lawyers, wrote down notes and also told Stephen K. Bannon about the call. Then he quit. In other words, he seems to have everything humanely possible to leave investigators a brightly lit trail of possible evidence.
We have also learned that Trump has demanded political/personal loyalty from not one but three key individuals in the investigation — former FBI director James B. Comey, former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe (Trump asked whom he voted for and tried to fire him) and now, we learn, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. Trump reportedly asked Rosenstein whether he was part of Trump’s team — at the very time Rosenstein is overseeing the Russia investigation. Moreover, Trump had a meltdown when he learned Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from the Russia probe. Trump demanded to know who would be his “Roy Cohn” at the Justice Department. He has never stopped searching for one. All of these attempts to extract promises to act as Trump’s political protector rather than to follow their oaths of office seem to be powerful evidence of Trump’s “corrupt intent.”
Taking a step back, the Nunes lunacy concerning release of the memo may well do more harm to Republicans and implicate both the White House and Nunes himself. Constitutional lawyer Laurence H. Tribe says, “Both the President’s release of the memo despite the warning of FBI Director [Christopher] Wray and the actions of Nunes in concocting a phony smear of Rosenstein seem to me to be important parts of an ongoing conspiracy to obstruct justice.”
Ethics guru Norm Eisen agrees. “Dissemination of false information to target prosecutors and investigators (Rosenstein and others here) can be part of the mosaic of obstruction,” he says. “And while Nunes has speech and debate immunity, that may not extend to colluding far from the floor of Congress, at the White House, to help the president interfere with the Mueller investigation.”
Eisen, together with Noah Bookbinder, Caroline Fredrickson and Kristin Amerling, has now released a handy guide to the entire scheme to discredit special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and the investigation. The authors find that a multitude of allegations thrown around by Trump and his lackeys — each easily debunked — do not show Mueller to be compromised. However:
Collectively, they amount to one of the most sustained smear campaigns against honest government officials since Senator Joe McCarthy’s attacks of the 1950’s. We address them collectively in this report because a pattern has emerged of the President and/or his enablers making wild allegations, dominating a media cycle, then pivoting away as the falsity of the claims emerge. Rather than defending the spurious attacks, after a short interval, a new and baseless charge is launched, and the vicious cycle is repeated. We think the pattern is highly relevant to the credibility of each new charge relating to the [special counsel]–the latest coming in the form of the Nunes memo—and that it is important for a rebuttal of them all to be on the record.
Trump and Nunes can create a cloud of confusion and feed the Fox News state TV programming beast, but Trump has left himself wide open (with a slew of witnesses) to a charge of obstruction. Nunes is making Trump’s predicament worse in that regard; he’s inadvertently demonstrating the lengths to which Republicans, and not only Trump, will go to protect Trump from legal and political peril. This is unlikely to end well for Nunes, Trump or the GOP.