Here is the statement issued by President Trump's legal team, in response to The Washington Post's report that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice: “The FBI leak of information regarding the president is outrageous, inexcusable and illegal.”
Translation: The report is true, and we're really mad that someone (actually five someones) made the obstruction investigation public.
Trump followed with a tweet that seemed to further confirm that, yes, he is under investigation for possible obstruction.
They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2017
And the official Republican talking points all rest on the premise that the report is accurate. Trump surrogates have been instructed to argue that leaks are the real problem and that there is no legal case for obstruction.
A source sent me RNC/Trump talking points for Repubs seeking to discredit tonight’s WaPo scoop on Mueller investigating Trump obstruction —> pic.twitter.com/ctwy2si9A7
— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) June 15, 2017
Update: Trump explicitly confirmed the investigation in a tweet on Friday morning.
I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2017
Acknowledging the existence of an obstruction investigation is a remarkable concession by a president who spent much of the past week suggesting as strongly as possible that he was not personally under investigation.
Former FBI director James B. Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that he told Trump three times between January and March that the agency was not investigating Trump, as an individual. Anyone paying attention understood that Trump's status could have changed since those conversations — indeed it did — but the president seized on Comey's testimony to give the impression that he was presently in the clear.
After broadcasting the assurances he had received from Comey in a firing letter, on May 9, Trump claimed “total and complete vindication” following Comey's testimony.
Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication...and WOW, Comey is a leaker!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 9, 2017
The Post reported Wednesday night that “the obstruction-of-justice investigation of the president began days after Comey was fired on May 9, according to people familiar with the matter.” In other words, it remained secret for more than a month.
Perhaps Trump, as he trotted out his personal attorney to declare last Thursday that “the president was not under investigation as part of any probe into Russian interference,” felt confident that the obstruction probe would remain hidden from the news media. If so, his confidence was misplaced. During his five months in office, Trump has appeared powerless to stop leaks, even after last week's criminal charges against alleged leaker Reality Leigh Winner.
It is striking that Trump, the anti-leak crusader, didn't instruct his team to issue a statement along these lines: We are not going to comment on anonymously sourced reports that spread rumor and innuendo. That would not have been a denial of The Post's report, but at least it would not have been a confirmation.
It appears that Team Trump is going all in on the “witch hunt” defense. Instead of casting doubt on the existence of an obstruction investigation, Trump is acknowledging the probe and trying to use it to cast himself as the victim of a plot to destroy his presidency.
Expect more messaging like this tweet by Trump ally Newt Gingrich:
Muelleris now clearly the ti[p of the deep state spear aimed at destroying or at a minimum undermining and crippling the Trump presidency.
— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) June 15, 2017