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Sunday, June 18, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Trump wanted James Comey to shut down the FBI’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael T. Flynn.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go” the president told Mr. Comey. “He’s a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”


That’s the way Mr. Trump put it, according to the account of the conversation Mr. Comey wrote down immediately after his meeting with the president, while it was still fresh in his mind.

He not only wrote it down, he shared what Mr. Trump told him with his closest associates at the FBI, just in case he needed witnesses to vouch for Comey’s honesty if the president accused him of lying.

That of course is what Mr. Trump did after he fired Mr. Comey.

Mr. Trump’s supporters argued that the president was not guilty of attempted obstruction of justice because he had expressed only the “hope” of halting his investigation. But that’s not what Mr. Trump was saying to him, Mr. Comey said, explaining that he took the emphatic words as “a directive” from the nation’s chief executive.

Mr. Flynn had not only lied to Vice President Pence when he denied having conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., but to others, too. Mr. Trump was forced to fire him.

Mr. Trump hoped, and no doubt even believed, that he had ended further discussion about any obstruction of justice charges — until Wednesday. That’s when The Washington Post broke the story that the special counsel in charge of the investigation was “interviewing senior intelligence officials as part of a widening probe that now includes an examination of whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice “

What this means of course is that Mr. Trump, who hounded Mr. Comey to publicly state he was not personally a target of the investigation, now finds he is its chief target.

And the question that special counsel Robert Mueller III is now asking is whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and Kremlin meddling in the election. He is also searching for evidence about whether there were “financial crimes” among his campaign associates.

It is widely forgotten now, but on March 20 Mr. Comey told a congressional committee that the FBI was looking into potential coordination between Moscow and his campaign.

Mr. Mueller has cast a wide net in his investigation, including interviews with Daniel Coats, the director of national intelligence, Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, and Mr. Rogers’ former deputy, Richard Ledgett, who were expected to be interviewed his week.

In past presidential scandals, it was said that the most serious crime is the coverup. Mr. Comey’s accounts of his conversations with Mr. Trump contain all of the ingredients of an attempted coverup, except the FBI director refused to play that game. And is now the president’s chief accuser.

For now, confusion and fear reign throughout the West Wing of the White House.

Deputy presidential press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is referring all questions about the investigation to Mr. Trump’s private lawyer.

And Mr. Pence, who up until now has largely kept himself out of the spreading scandal, has hired his own private lawyer, Richard Cullen of Richmond, Va.

Meantime, Mr. Trump has been firing off one angry tweet after another, calling the rapidly expanding probe “the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history.”

Worse, the president tweeted, the investigation is being led by “some very bad and conflicted people.”

Who were these people? Mr. Trump doesn’t say.

But there seems little else he can do about the scandal that seems to be expanding almost daily under Mr. Mueller’s leadership.

Even some of the president’s family have come under investigation. Mr. Mueller is now said to be investigating the finances and business dealings of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

The investigation in Congress, spread over at least four major oversight committees, was also accelerating daily.

National Intelligence director Dan Coats testified for more than three hours in a closed-door meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The harsh political reality throughout this unfolding scandal is that the president faces two powerful forces within the government: Congress, with the House and Senate simultaneously conducting their own independent investigations, and the independent special prosecutor chosen by Mr. Trump’s own people in the Justice Department.

And he is powerless to do anything about it, except to let it run its course to a still uncertain conclusion.

Mr. Trump can still make his appeals in the court of public opinion through his tweets, but he seems to be losing that battle, too.

A recent survey by the respected Gallup Poll shows his job approval score has plunged to 36 percent.

• Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.


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