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Trump Pressed Top Senators To End Russia Investigation

Trump Russia

Even before the news about Michael Flynn’s guilty plea was released, there was other big news in the investigation into Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Specifically, The New York Times reported this morning that President Trump contacted several members of the Senate in an effort to get them to bring the investigation into the Russia matter to a close:

WASHINGTON — President Trump over the summer repeatedly urged senior Senate Republicans, including the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to end the panel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, according to a half dozen lawmakers and aides. Mr. Trump’s requests were a highly unusual intervention from a president into a legislative inquiry involving his family and close aides.

Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, the intelligence committee chairman, said in an interview this week that Mr. Trump told him that he was eager to see an investigation that has overshadowed much of the first year of his presidency come to an end.

“It was something along the lines of, ‘I hope you can conclude this as quickly as possible,'” Mr. Burr said. He said he replied to Mr. Trump that “when we have exhausted everybody we need to talk to, we will finish.”

In addition, according to lawmakers and aides, Mr. Trump told Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri and a member of the intelligence committee, to end the investigation swiftly.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who is a former chairwoman of the intelligence committee, said in an interview this week that Mr. Trump’s requests were “inappropriate” and represented a breach of the separation of powers.

“It is pressure that should never be brought to bear by an official when the legislative branch is in the process of an investigation,” Ms. Feinstein said.

Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, said on Thursday that the president had not acted improperly. Mr. Trump, he said, “at no point has attempted to apply undue influence on committee members” and believes “there is no evidence of collusion and these investigations must come to a fair and appropriate completion.”

Mr. Trump’s requests of lawmakers to end the Senate investigation came during a period in the summer when the president was particularly consumed with Russia and openly raging at his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from any inquiries into Russian meddling in the election. Mr. Trump often vented to his own aides and even declared his innocence to virtual strangers he came across on his New Jersey golf course.

In this same period, the president complained frequently to Mr. McConnell about not doing enough to bring the investigation to an end, a Republican official close to the leader said.

Republicans played down Mr. Trump’s appeals, describing them as the actions of a political newcomer unfamiliar with what is appropriate presidential conduct.

Mr. Burr said he did not feel pressured by the president’s appeal, portraying it as the action of someone who has “never been in government.” But he acknowledged other members of his committee have had similar discussions with Mr. Trump. “Everybody has promptly shared any conversations that they’ve had,” Mr. Burr said.

 

(…)

Mr. Trump also called other lawmakers over the summer with requests that they push Mr. Burr to finish the inquiry, according to a Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss his contact with the president.

This senator, who was alarmed upon hearing word of the president’s pleas, said Mr. Trump’s request to the other senators was clear: They should urge Mr. Burr to bring the Russia investigation to a close. The senator declined to reveal which colleagues Mr. Trump had contacted with the request.

Some of Mr. Trump’s advisers feared he would move to fire Mr. Mueller, an option that the president pointedly left open in an Oval Office interview with The New York Times in July.

During this time, Mr. Trump made several calls to senators without senior staff present, according to one West Wing official. According to senators and other Republicans familiar with the conversations, Mr. Trump would begin the talks on a different topic but eventually drift toward the Russia investigation.

In conversations with Mr. McConnell and Senator Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Trump voiced sharp anger that congressional Republicans were not helping lift the cloud of suspicion over Russia, the senators told political allies. The Times reported in August that the president had complained to Mr. McConnell that he was failing to shield Mr. Trump from an ongoing Senate inquiry.

The earlier call with Mr. Burr, however, was perhaps the most invasive, given Mr. Burr’s role directly supervising the Senate’s investigation of Mr. Trump.

Mr. Burr told other senators that Mr. Trump had stressed that it was time to “move on” from the Russia issue, using that language repeatedly, according to people who spoke with Mr. Burr over the summer. One Republican close to Mr. Burr, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Mr. Trump had been “very forceful.”

Asked why Mr. Trump is so irritated with the investigation, Mr. Burr said: “In his world it hampers his ability to project the strength he needs to convey on foreign policy.”

Mr. Burr said Mr. Trump was not fully aware of the impropriety of his request because the president still has the mind-set of a businessman rather than a politician. “Businessmen are paid to skip things that they think they can skip and get away with,” he said.

This isn’t the first that we’ve heard about Trump attempting to influence the Russia investigation, of course. Mere days after he had been let go as National Security Adviser, Trump asked F.B.I. Director James Comey to go easy on Flynn and to basically bring that aspect of the Bureau’s investigation to a close. Not only did Comey not do this, but he testified regarding the scope of the investigation in early May, just days before he was fired by Trump on what later clearly ended up being trumped up charges regarding the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server and her use and treatment of classified information. Trump ended up acknowledging within a few days of Comey’s dismissal that it was, in fact, the Russia investigation that was the primary motivation for firing Comey. Later in the year, it was reported that Trump had contacted the heads of the intelligence agencies and leaned on them to bring the investigation to the end and perhaps even to influence their potential testimony to Congress regarding the extent of the findings of the intelligence bureaus with regard to Russian interference in the election and, more specifically, to state that Trump and his campaign did not collude with Russia or Russian officials in connection with the election.

What all of this reveals is a clear effort on the part of Trump and other members of the Administration to impair, impede, or bring to an end the ongoing investigations into Russia and collusion not only by Robert Mueller but also by the House and the Senate. This belies the objections we’ve heard from Trump and others that there is no story to pursue and that the entire Russia investigations constitute so-called “Fake News.” If that were the case, then why is the Administration putting so much effort into trying to shut the investigation down and discredit it before it has even really begun? One could make the case, I suppose, that this is simply a signal that Trump is frustrated by the scope and invasiveness of the investigation so far, but that in and of itself leads one to wonder what, if anything, it might be that the President doesn’t want Mueller and the House and Senate committees to look into, and what it is that he or the people around him might have to hide. It is, in other words, suspicious behavior that can’t be dismissed as the response of someone who doesn’t have something that they don’t want to see made public.

This is hardly evidence of wrongdoing, of course, but as the Watergate era slogan goes, it’s not necessarily the crime of Russian interference and possible collusion that could end up being a problem for Trump, but the cover-up. In the wake of James Comey’s firing, Trump’s efforts to actively undermine the Mueller investigation, subsequent suggestions that Trump might try to force Robert Mueller out of office, something that Trump did not rule out over the summer, there has been much talk about the idea that the President may be coming close to obstructing justice or attempting to obstruct justice, both of which constitute crimes and both of which were at the center of the charges against President Nixon just prior to his resignation. We’re far from that point with President Trump, of course, but the evidence that he is actively seeking to discredit and shut down the Russia investigation is there, and the question of why he would do so unless he had something to hide is difficult to answer.

 

 

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    Trump knows he’s guilty.

    There is no other explanation for his actions and statements over the last 18 months. That’s why all the people calling for transparency are wasting their time: guilty people don’t want transparency.

    What guilty people want, really, really, really want, is for the cops to stop chasing them.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 0

  2. HarvardLaw92 says:

    So now we’re up to violating separation of powers as well.

    At what point do these clowns rid themselves of this meddlesome priest?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0

  3. michael reynolds says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Well, they need him to sign their trillion dollar transfer of funds from working people to the rich, first. Donors must be served.

    But I’ve been wondering what use the GOP has for Trump after they get done paying off the Kochs and the Mercers.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 0

  4. Modulo Myself says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I imagine the Mercers and Kochs are going to go after any kind of access to information and happiness once the money is in place. Stack the courts with neo-confederate judges, replace public schools with Jesus camps, and try to shut down any connection middle America has with reality.

    Honestly, in ten years slavery will be a myth made up by liberal identity politicians. The Mercers believe that right now…

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 0

  5. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Did you see the offhanded torpedo Rubio aimed at this legislation? Publicly commenting on the need to realign Social Security and Medicare in the bill?

    I wandered through an oldster forum earlier just to take the temperature. They are PISSED. There is no way he didn’t do that to screw passage.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  6. Jen says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Then why on earth is this POS bill still chugging along? I’m baffled by the number of people–and interest groups!–this bill angers, and yet, it’s still moving.

    It’s almost as if they think that having cash in the campaign coffers is enough to offset angry voters. Those seniors DO NOT forget stuff like this. I’ve worked in politics, but this is stunning even to me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  7. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Jen:

    When your opponent is busily driving his boat onto the rocks, you let him. You don’t need to know why :-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  8. Gustopher says:

    @HarvardLaw92: unfortunately, many of us are stuck on that boat.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  9. mattb says:

    @Gustopher:

    unfortunately, many of us are stuck on that boat.

    And we are also not excited about boarding the S.S. Pence.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  10. Lit3Bolt says:

    I think what’s happening is this. Trump is incredibly guilty and an incredible liability, and the GOP is rushing to pass the tax cut ASAP then let Trump twist in the wind all of 2018, so they can let their party run against or for Trump, depending on the locale, while Mueller squeezes every last Trump accomplice. They won’t kill him, but they certainly won’t save him. They’ll act as hapless bystanders, befuddled by mystical and mysterious Washington, and then tell everyone to vote Pence in 2020.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  11. gVOR08 says:

    Doug, a question. You write that this is hardly evidence of wrongdoing, but also “evidence that he is actively seeking to discredit and shut down the Russia investigation is there”. IANAL. What is the threshold for obstruction?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. gVOR08 says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    Honestly, in ten years slavery will be a myth made up by liberal identity politicians. The Mercers believe that right now…

    I’ve generally assumed Paul Ryan was just a gutless, lying, careerist POS. Chait has a piece in New York Magazine arguing that no, Ryan actually believes his nonsense and is courageously pursuing his agenda.

    Liberals have had trouble grasping the willingness of conventional Republican politicians like Ryan to cooperate with Trump’s repeated violations of democratic norms. Why violate a core ideal like the sanctity of the republican form of government, they wonder, for a meager reward like tax cuts?

    From the standpoint of a Paul Ryan, however, he is not selling out. He is advancing his highest ideals of public service. The tax bill, protecting the makers from the predations of the takers, represents one of the great triumphs of freedom of his adult life.

    The bozos with tiki torches are the tip of an iceberg. There is money and organization and a pretense of intellectualism behind them. Trumpsky is responding to manipulation, and probably black mail, but he’s also responding to backers who believe that Russian Orthodox, capitalist, oligarchic Russia is a natural ally.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  13. An Interested Party says:

    Of course the trolls around here will be dead-enders for the Orange Mange, but I wonder about the moderate types who talked about “collusion” and “treason” as being ridiculous fantasies and a step too far…as more and more evidence comes to light, how can any of this be talked about as a “fantasy”…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. Liberal Capitalist says:

    But what about Hillary, huh?

    I heard from a friend who knew someone who saw her jaywalk during the early days of her husband’s presidency.

    Why isn’t the FBI investigating that, huh?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  15. CET says:

    I can’t help but laugh at the Trumpian tools who are still writing the ‘nothing to see here’ op-eds. It’s like I’m watching a slow motion version of the old Monty Python Spanish Inquisition skit.

    “This investigation will lead to nothing!”

    (Indictments filed)

    “The only thing this investigation will lead to is nothing, and some indictments!”

    (Flynn’s plea)

    “The only thing this investigation will lead to is nothing, some indictments, and a guilty plea!”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. CET says:

    Mr. Burr said Mr. Trump was not fully aware of the impropriety of his request because the president still has the mind-set of a businessman rather than a politician.

    Also, can we get some kind of collective agreement to stop using this as an excuse? Like it justifies his behavior somehow….’It’s not Mr. Trump’s fault. The president just forgot that he wasn’t a military dictator, and didn’t realize that he couldn’t order soldiers to round up his political opponents for summary execution.’

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  17. Mikey says:

    @CET: No kidding. I wish I could use excuses like that where I work.

    “Oh, it’s OK that Mikey took the entire company’s Internet access down, he still has the mindset of an accountant rather than an IT specialist.”

    Like, in what world is incompetence a valid excuse?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  18. CSK says:

    @Mikey:

    The Trumpkins have long since convinced themselves that one of Trump’s great virtues is that he has no idea what he’s doing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  19. CET says:

    @CSK:

    Yea…I still have trouble with that one. If folks had really wanted to reduce the power of the presidency (and government in general), they would have voted for Rand Paul.

    I get that cognitive dissonance forces Trump voters to come up with some justification for what they did that other than ‘I’m a racist who secretly hates America’ or ‘I’m historically illiterate, gullible, and attracted to strong authority figures.’ If he’d lost, I’d be inclined to let it slide. Since they put the whole country in jeopardy by winning, I think we get to rub their noses in it for at least the next 3 years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  20. CSK says:

    @CET:

    I don’t think anyone will be able to rub their noses in it, because whatever Trump does will thrill them. Start a war with No. Korea? Fine.

    As long as it annoys/appalls non-Trump worshipers, it’s good. Revenge against “the elites” is the
    only thing that matters.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  21. Turgid Jacobian says:

    @HarvardLaw92: He’d have to do a shiftload more than that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. grumpy realist says:

    Has anyone seen the Clinton vs. Jones, Act II?

    It would be such an act of karmic justice on everybody if:

    a) Trump is dragged into court based on the Clinton v. Jones results (sitting POTUS can be charged )
    b) Trump commits perjury (while POTUS, natch!)
    c) someone brings impeachment charges against Trump based on perjury

    Hee hee hee.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @grumpy realist: While I like the humor and irony, I don’t see who will be able to get the impeachment articles onto the floor of a Republican-controlled House.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. Mister Bluster says:

    Give ’em Hell Lindsey!
    “I would just say this with the president: There’s an ongoing criminal investigation,” Graham said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”
    “You tweet and comment regarding ongoing criminal investigations at your own peril,” he added.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0