By Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post, May 17, 2017
Congressional Republicans are increasing pressure on the administration to produce records related to the latest string of controversies involving President Trump, amid flagging confidence in the White House and a growing sense that scandal is overtaking the presidency.
As the White House sought to contain the damage from two major scandals, leaders of two key Senate committees asked the FBI for documents related to former director James B. Comey, who was leading an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election before Trump fired him last week.
As the investigation into Trump’s action heats up, let’s not forget the other players in this burgeoning scandal. The president is facing an inquiry into whether he obstructed justice, so the issue becomes whether others who assisted him are in legal danger.
“Obstruction of justice laws do not apply in this case solely to the president,” Jordan Libowitz of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington tells me. “If [Vice President] Pence, [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions, [Jared] Kushner or anyone else took any action in an attempt to impede the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, then they would find themselves in the same boat President Trump appears to be in.” That might include everything from writing a letter, as Sessions did, suggesting the reason for the firing of former FBI director James B. Comey had to do with his handling of Hillary Clinton’s emails to going out to Capitol Hill (as Pence did) to spread the cover story.
News reports, for example, say that Trump is furious with his son-in-law for recommending Comey’s firing. If Kushner was pushing the idea with the purpose of derailing the Russia investigation, he is both a witness and potential defendant.
“The liability of others in Trump’s likely obstruction of justice will depend on the degree of their knowing and intentional involvement,” says ethics guru Norman Eisen. “A number of critical elements of the case involved just Trump and Comey one-on-one; indeed, part of the damning evidence is that Trump dismissed the others from the room before asking Comey to drop the case.” He continues, “So we will have to see what evidence as to those in Trump’s circle emerges, though I certainly would not be surprised if it did, given the corrupt, enabling atmosphere that pervades the White House and the administration.”
Democrats on the House Oversight and Judiciary committees sent a letter which reads in part:
We are writing to request that the Oversight Committee and the Judiciary Committee launch an immediate joint investigation into whether President Donald Trump and his top officials are engaged in an ongoing conspiracy to obstruct the criminal, counter-intelligence, and oversight investigations currently being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice, and Congress into members of his presidential campaign and their contacts with Russian officials. [Emphasis added.]
A spokeswoman for Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member on the Oversight Committee, confirms that their desire to investigate is not limited to the president. “In the executive branch, we need a special prosecutor because the Attorney General is compromised and whoever the President appoints will be beholden to him,” his spokeswoman told me via email. In addition, the Democrats want an independent commission. The spokeswoman explained: “The reason we are asking for an independent commission is to have a truly bipartisan group completely outside of Congress to examine the broader issue of Russian interference.”
So, yes, a number of people in the administration may be well advised to “lawyer up.” Moreover, staffers at whatever level should be wary of participating in statements and briefings that advance a defense of the president’s actions. Perhaps they can start directing questions to Trump’s private lawyers.