President Donald Trump’s request to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to shut down the Russia probe may seem like a clear-cut case of obstruction of justice — but to special counsel Robert Mueller, it’s just part of a bigger picture.
Sources said Wednesday that the president wants to speak with Mueller, against his lawyers’ advice.
During a Thursday discussion, CNN legal analysts began by explaining that if the Trump team thinks it can get away with sending written statements in lieu of a live interview, it has another think coming. Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti called such answers “essentially useless” because they’ve been pre-digested by attorneys.
“One thing they really need to put a bow on is there intent here,” said Laura Coates. “We can all surmise and guess about whether or not the president’s contextual clues, about the perceived witch hunt.”
She explained that Mueller needs to know if Trump had “the corrupt intent to impede or influence or undermine this investigation.” That option is instead of the “much harder standard of circumstantial evidence, meaning that contextual evidence of everything.” Mueller would likely be more inclined to want to “hear it from the horse’s mouth.”
“You have the opportunity to question the president; you need to be able to assess their credibility,” she said. “Look them in the eyes, have a gut reaction, and compare it to what they have already written.”
She noted that Rudy Giuliani seems so concerned about a so-called “perjury trap.” However, if they put together a written statement, it puts Trump in a position to have to verify all of those claims his lawyers outlined.
Mariotti outlined the circumstantial evidence. However, he now believes that he has seen all of the evidence needed to justify an obstruction charge.
“All of the evidence that we have seen of the president’s intent, not only the firing of [former FBI director] James Comey, pressuring the attorney general to recuse himself, telling [White House counsel] Don McGann to fire Robert Mueller at one point, and just all sorts of statements by the president, angry about the existence of this investigation, and very much desiring to help Michael Flynn and others.”
He explained that there is a variety of evidence that shows the president’s “intent” was to undermine the investigation before his tweets were even part of the equation.
Trump has made the argument in the past that it is under his purview to fire whomever he wishes, but Mariotti explained just as he can’t fire someone for their race or religion, it’s to fire someone to impede an investigation. In the case of Comey, Trump had deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein justify the firing, but then later said it wasn’t the actual reason he did it.
Coates said that when people are arguing about the “form and not the substance of what you’re doing, you’re playing a losing plan’s game.”
Ultimately, Coates explained that no prosecutor would let the investigation conclude merely because he or she found proof of obstruction of justice. She surmised that Mueller is merely continuing the investigation in its entirety.
Asha Rangappa explained in a later segment that a single tweet couldn’t be used to charge obstruction of justice. Instead, it is part of a more extensive collection of evidence for the investigation.
Watch the full conversation below:
‘The worst day of the presidency so far for Donald Trump’: Advisor to four presidents
President Donald Trump has not had a worse day in office than he suffered on Friday, according to a top former White House advisor.
David Gergen served in the administrations of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. He was interviewed Friday night by CNN's Anderson Cooper.
"If you are looking to throw somebody under the bus, Gordon Sondland would probably be a prime candidate to be next in line to be thrown under the bus," Cooper said.
"I think the president will wait patiently to see what he says and then decide," Gergen replied.
He then offered his analysis of the situation.
‘Aides to the president are not happy’ Gordon Sondland held the phone up in restaurant: CNN’s Jim Acosta
CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta reported on Friday that White House aides are unhappy with Ambassador Gordon Sondland for holding up a call with Trump in a restaurant for multiple witnesses to listen.
The details were revealed in bombshell closed-door testimony before Congress on Friday.
Acosta noted the administration was trying to downplay the significance of the call.
"But I will tell you, that the aides of the president are not happy that Gordon Sondland apparently held the phone up so other aides could hear what was going on and the words of the source familiar with the conversations inside the White House, the president speaks loudly, Sondland should know that," Acosta reported.
David Holmes’ opening statement to Congress directly implicated Donald Trump: report
Congress will hear first-hand testimony of President Donald Trump's involvement in the Ukraine scandal.
"David Holmes, the state department aide who overheard President Donald Trump's conversation with the US ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, said that Sondland told Trump that the Ukranian President would do 'anything you ask him to,' and that he confirmed the Ukrainians were going to 'do the investigation,'" CNN reported Friday.
""Sondland told Trump that (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelensky 'loves your ass,'" Holmes testified. "I then heard President Trump ask, 'So, he's gonna do the investigation?' Ambassador Sondland replied that 'he's gonna do it,' adding that President Zelensky will do 'anything you ask him to.'"