Trump demands end to Mueller probe
An increasingly agitated President Trump this week called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to immediately end the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian election interference this week, amid reports that Trump’s former lawyer is willing to turn over damaging information to special counsel Robert Mueller. CNN reported that Michael Cohen is prepared to tell prosecutors that Trump had advance knowledge and approved of the campaign’s 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. Cohen claims that he and other witnesses were present when Donald Trump Jr. told his father about the planned meeting, arranged after an email promised the Clinton dirt as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” In a tweet, the president last week once again adamantly denied knowing about the meeting, accusing Cohen of lying in an attempt to get out of his own legal troubles. Cohen is under federal investigation for his business dealings, including making potentially illegal payoffs to women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump.
Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani embarked on a whirlwind TV tour to defend the president, insisting that Trump hadn’t broken any laws. “I have been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime,” Giuliani said on Fox & Friends. “Collusion is not a crime.” Trump later echoed the same line on Twitter, while railing against Mueller’s investigation over the course of several days, ultimately calling for Sessions to end the probe altogether. “Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now,” Trump tweeted. “Before it continues to stain our country any further.”
What the editorials said
Don’t fall for Giuliani’s smoke-and-mirrors routine, said the New York Daily News. The word “collusion” isn’t written into the U.S. criminal code, but cooperating with Russian efforts to influence the election could bring charges of conspiracy, election laws violations, and many other felonies. Giuliani admitted that the hacking of Democratic emails was a crime. “What if Trump had prior knowledge of that crime or actively encouraged it?”
If Cohen is telling the truth, said the Springfield, Mass., Republican, it would explain why the president later dictated a false cover story that the meeting was about “adoptions.” It would also explain why Trump is so reluctant to answer questions from Mueller’s team. If he’s questioned, he can either admit that he gave the green light to a meeting with foreign agents, or lie about it. It also means Donald Jr. perjured himself before a Senate committee when he denied he ever told his father about the meeting, and could face criminal charges. “One can’t help but wonder what else the president’s fixer knows.”
What the columnists said
With his frantic plea that Sessions somehow shut down the Russia investigation “right now,” Trump came perilously close to obstruction of justice, said Chris Cillizza in CNN.com. The White House immediately started damage control, with Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisting that the tweet was “not an order,” just an expression of Trump’s opinion. “The President is not obstructing,” Sanders said. “He’s fighting back.” Clearly, with his former fixer willing to tell all to Mueller and his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort on trial, “it’s getting a little hot in here for Trump.”
It’s no surprise that Trump’s defenders are “moving the goalposts,” said John Cassidy in NewYorker.com. The time line of events “strongly suggests that Trump indeed had advance notice of the Russia meeting.” Two days before the meeting happened, Trump publicly announced that he was about to release a treasure trove of new revelations about Clinton. Why did Trump say that if he didn’t believe that “some Russians were about to deliver the dirt?” I’ll admit there’s a good chance Trump knew about the meeting, said Rich Lowry in NationalReview.com, but what does that prove? Sure, expressing interest in Russian dirt on Clinton was “amateurish and wrong,” but as far as we know, the meeting yielded no useful dirt, and there’s no evidence that the Trump campaign played any role in the Russian email hacking. Yes, Trump and his campaign knew that Russia favored them and did not reject their help. That may be cynical politics, “but it’s not the crime of the century.”
Unbelievable, said Max Boot in The Washington Post. The president’s defenders have gone “from arguing that no collusion occurred to arguing that collusion, even if it occurred, is no big deal.” Sadly, we’re probably not far from mainstream Republicans arguing that they’re actually glad Trump worked with the Kremlin in order to save the country from “Crooked Hillary.” But it violates multiple statutes for a presidential candidate to work with a foreign power to influence a U.S. election, and if Republicans cared about our country more than their party, it should be an impeachable offense. “The pathetic truth is that Republicans now think if Trump does it—whatever ‘it’ is—it’s not a crime.”
Cohen’s potential testimony is not Trump’s only problem, said Timothy O’Brien in Bloomberg.com. Prosecutors in New York have subpoenaed the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, to testify before a grand jury as part of the investigation into Cohen’s business dealings. Weisselberg has been intimately involved in Trump’s finances since the 1970s, preparing Trump’s tax returns and signing off on all of the company’s deals. “He could potentially provide much more damaging information to prosecutors than Cohen ever could.” The CFO would know, for example, if Russian money poured into the Trump organization in the decade before Trump ran for president. There must be a reason Trump broke a 40-year tradition and didn’t release his tax returns, said Tessa Berenson in Time.com. Weisselberg knows why Trump is so sensitive about his finances, and why the president said it would be “crossing a red line” for federal investigators to dig into them. That red line is about to be crossed.
Cover illustration by Howard McWilliam.
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