Friday, June 16, 2017

Trump attacks obstruction of justice probe by former FBI chief Mueller

WASHINGTON  In a day-long tweet storm, President Trump on Thursday sought to discredit disclosures that that he is now under investigation for obstruction of justice in connection with the firing of FBI Director James Comey, denouncing the inquiry as another "witch hunt."

"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," Trump tweeted. Nice.

Trump followed up about an hour later with another critical tweet: "You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history  led by some very bad and conflicted people!
Trump, who has denied any kind of collusion with Russia, was responding to Russia special counsel Robert Mueller's now-expanded probe that includes a review of whether the president attempted to obstruct justice, according to a person familiar with the matter. The inquiry began following the abrupt dismissal of the former FBI director who told the Senate Intelligence Committee last week that the president directed him to drop the bureau's investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn and his prior communications with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

The obstruction investigation was first disclosed by the Washington Post , which reported that Mueller is interviewing top intelligence officials in connection with the inquiry.

Senate Intelligence Committee, meanwhile, continued to pursue a parallel inquiry Thursday, taking testimony in closed session from Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

A week after declining to answer questions about whether Trump asked him to publicly downplay possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, Coats spent more than three hours with the panel in a closed session.

North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, the panel's Republican chairman, and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the committee's top Democrat, said Coats' appearance was an attempt to "clear up a number of questions that remained from his appearance in open session last Wednesday.''

Last week, Coats told the committee that he did not believe it was appropriate for him to publicly discuss conversations he has had with the president.

"I have never felt pressured to intervene or interfere in any way with shaping intelligence in a political way or in relation to an ongoing investigation," Coats testified.

Coats left Thursday's session without comment or addressing questions about whether he also would be discussing his contacts with the president with Mueller's investigators.

While the Justice Department appointed Mueller to investigate Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and any links to the Trump campaign  his assignment also includes "any matters that...may arise” from the Russia probe

Special Counsel Robert Mueller will investigate President Donald Trump. Specifically, Mueller will explore the possibility that Trump obstructed justice. Newslook

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel shortly after Comey's firing. Rosenstein was acting, because Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from acting in the Russia investigation after it was revealed he had held two meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before the Nov. 8, 2016 election.

The disclosure of Mueller's expanded inquiry comes amid reports that Trump has discussed whether to remove the special counsel. White House officials said the president is not considering such a step.

Supporters of Trump condemned the news leaks regarding the new investigation.

"The FBI leak of information regarding the President is outrageous, inexcusable and illegal," said Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Trump's legal team.

Trump is not the first president to be subjected to a special counsel investigation, nor the first president to protest it.

During the 1990s, President Bill Clinton and supporters protested the investigation of independent counsel Kenneth Starr, which began as a probe of the Whitewater real estate deal and ended with Clinton's impeachment on charges of perjury and obstruction regarding his relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky.
In the most famous presidential investigation, Watergate, Archibald Cox was appointed special prosecutor on May 18, 1973  by June 5, Nixon was complaining about being attacked by Cox. That October, Nixon had Cox fired, leading eventually to House impeachment hearings and the president's resignation.

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