The smoking gun might just have appeared.
There is now a credible report that President Donald Trump may have attempted to obstruct justice in his dealings with then FBI Director James Comey.
On Tuesday evening, the New York Times reported that Trump, in a February Oval Office meeting, asked the FBI director to shut down the bureau’s investigation into Michael Flynn, who had resigned the day before as national security adviser. Flynn’s resignation came after it was revealed that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other top administration officials about the extent of his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak.
The Trump administration has denied the Times account — as it has denied any number of other reports that have turned out to be true — saying that Trump never asked Comey to shut any investigation down. But the Times story is based on a source close to Comey who read parts of the memo to the Times. And the story has now been confirmed by CNN and the Washington Post.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump allegedly said to Comey. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
Add to that the fact that Trump, by his own admission, was thinking about the Russia investigation and his annoyance over it when he later fired Comey. What we appear to have, then, is a president who tried to prevail on an FBI director to shut down an ongoing investigation and then, when he wouldn’t, fired him.
Let that sink in for a moment.
To date, the Republicans who control Congress have shown little interest in having a special counsel appointed to look into the Trump team’s ties to and interactions with Russian operatives. But this is potentially criminal behavior by the president himself.
An independent counsel can’t be avoided any longer. That’s not to say that Trump should be impeached. That’s a huge step for a nation to take, and a judgment there is premature until all the facts are known.
But the American people need to know all those facts. Even as Congress continues its own probes, which should include public testimony by Comey and the examination of his memo(s), Congressional leaders must acknowledge that an independent counsel is required to oversee the FBI investigation, given the president’s clear desire to shut it down.
And Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who let himself be made complicit in Comey’s firing, needs to appoint such a special counsel — or resign his office.
This is too important for any part of Washington to ignore. Our republic depends on leaders with the courage to rise to the occasion.