Did Trump obstruct justice? The question is getting murkier

Trump speaking to reporters at the White House on Monday morning before leaving for a trip to Utah.
Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock
Trump speaking to reporters at the White House on Monday morning before leaving for a trip to Utah.

The guilty plea Friday by fired national security adviser Michael Flynn raised the specter of obstruction of justice by President Trump. And the president’s tweets over the weekend added to the uproar.

The obstruction of justice issue has come to the fore because former FBI director James Comey has said that Trump asked him to drop an investigation of Flynn.

The issue came to a boil over the weekend when Trump’s official Twitter account tweeted Saturday, “I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!”


This tweet caused a furor because it appeared to suggest Trump knew that Flynn had lied to the FBI — which is the crime Flynn has now pleaded guilty to — when he asked Comey to drop the case against Flynn. Comey has testified that Trump talked to him about Flynn’s case a day after Flynn was fired and told him, “I hope you can let this go.”

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(Comey was later fired by Trump, who said in a TV interview the in firing the FBI director, he was thinking about “this Russia thing . . . a made-up story.”)

Here’s what the Trump administration is saying to defend itself:

1. Comey is lying about Trump asking him to drop the Flynn case.

Trump made that assertion in a tweet Sunday. “I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn. Just more Fake News covering another Comey lie!

2. Trump did not write that tweet on Saturday.

One of Trump’s lawyers, John Dowd, stepped forward to say that he had actually written the tweet. Dowd apologized for the wording, which he said was inaccurate in suggesting that Trump had been told that Flynn had lied to FBI agents about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. “I’m out of the tweeting business,” Dowd told The Washington Post.


3. Trump knew something about what Flynn had told FBI agents during the interview that got him convicted, but not everything.

Dowd also told the Post that Trump only knew that Flynn had told FBI agents the same thing about his contacts with the Russian ambassador that he had told Vice President Mike Pence. Dowd said the Justice Department had not told the White House that Flynn had allegedly lied to the FBI. Dowd told Reuters that Trump didn’t actually know that Flynn had lied to the FBI until his guilty plea on Friday.

A source gave CNN a slightly different version, saying Trump was told by his lawyer that Flynn had not told the truth to the FBI or Pence, but the lawyer did not tell Trump that Flynn had broken the law or was under investigation.

4. The president can’t be charged with obstruction, anyway.

Dowd told Axios that the president “cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case.”