In a revelation viewed by some lawmakers and legal experts as yet more evidence that President Donald Trump has obstructed justice, the New York Times reported on Thursday that Trump ordered White House counsel Donald McGahn to stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the FBI's Russia probe in a bid to maintain his "grip" on the investigation.
"The repeated attempts by the president of the United States to influence the criminal investigation against him, such as this attempt to order AG Jeff Sessions to not recuse, screams consciousness of guilt."
—Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.)
McGahn proceeded to carry out Trump's demand by lobbying Sessions—a move slammed by former Office of Government Ethics head Walter Shaub as an attempt to convince Sessions to "break the law"—but the effort ultimately failed.
When Sessions recused himself last March, Trump "erupted in anger in front of numerous White House officials, saying he needed his attorney general to protect him," according to the Times.
"Where's my Roy Cohn?" the president reportedly exclaimed, referring to his former lawyer, who also worked for the red-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Cohn was disbarred from practicing law in New York in 1986 on charges of "unethical" behavior.
Trump has previously aired his grievances with Sessions over his recusal in public—calling him a "disappointment"—but critics interpreted Trump's behind-closed-doors effort to keep the Russia probe under his control as another piece of evidence in a cumulative case that the president obstructed the ongoing Russia probe.
Noting that it is far from easy to prove obstruction—given that corrupt intent must be demonstrated—Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) chair Norm Eisen argued the Times report shows that "Trump is doing everything he can to help [Special Counsel Robert] Mueller do it."
As the Times reports, Mueller has learned about Trump's push to stop Sessions from recusing himself and is investigating the effort as part of his Russia probe, which the White House has attempted to discredit as a "hoax."
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a former prosecutor, took to Twitter following the Times revelations to argue that "the repeated attempts by the president of the United States to influence the criminal investigation against him, such as this attempt to order AG Jeff Sessions to not recuse, screams consciousness of guilt."
As Common Dreams reported last October, an in-depth analysis of Trump's actions during the first months of his presidency by CREW concluded it is "likely" that Trump obstructed justice by interfering with "the investigations into Michael Flynn and Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election through various actions, including the termination of James Comey."
Following the Times report, Eisen concluded that it "seems like a good morning to circulate" the paper once more.
Seems like a good morning to circulate my @BrookingsGov paper on Trump’s #ObstructionOfJustice written w/ @NoahBookbinder & Barry Berke. We take you through the elements, defenses & procedure—it’s the closest thing to the prosecution memo on Mueller’s desk https://t.co/zSxR0bqRog— Norm Eisen (@NormEisen) January 5, 2018