Hail to the Chief

Win McNamee/AFP/Getty Images
Donald Trump delivering the State of the Union address, Washington, D.C., January 2018

Soon, according to a June report in The Washington Post, the moment of truth will arrive. Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating the president, his administration, and his campaign, will deliver his verdict on whether Donald Trump obstructed justice.

On the larger and more complicated question of his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia, Mueller may take longer to issue a second report. But it is widely expected in Washington—which has been wrong about such matters before—that a first report, on obstruction, will drop before Labor Day. Assuming it happens, it will follow shortly after Mueller’s July 13 indictment of twelve Russian military intelligence officers. Those indictments have to do with the larger collusion story, and they suggest that more indictments might well be on the way. Even as Trump gave Putin the benefit of the doubt in Helsinki, a Russian woman, Maria Butina, was charged with trying to illegally influence the 2016 election.

It seems inconceivable that Mueller will absolve the president in that first report. Trump has obstructed justice right in front of our noses, and more than once, either because he doesn’t know what obstruction of justice is or because he knows and doesn’t care. The most notable instance was his interview with Lester Holt of NBC in May 2017, right after he fired FBI Director James Comey. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had prepared a letter laying out the president’s reasons for the dismissal. The reasons included, rather laughably, the charge that Comey was unfair to Hillary Clinton in his handling of the probe of her State Department e-mails. Holt asked Trump about the reasons stated in the letter, and eventually Trump acknowledged that they hadn’t a thing to do with it:

I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

That is obviously Trump saying, as directly as Trump can say anything, that he fired Comey because of the FBI’s investigation into his campaign’s possible Russia ties. But it’s hardly the only example we know of. Two months before that, in March 2017, he’d berated Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a meeting about Sessions’s earlier decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe and urged him to reverse course. He also made requests to both Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency director Michael Rogers to issue statements proclaiming that there was no collusion (both refused). There is more along these lines. Arguably every single tweet the president writes about the investigation, attacking Mueller’s “13 Angry Democrats” and denouncing it as an invariably upper-cased Witch Hunt, is an attempt…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. You may also need to link your website account to your subscription, which you can do here.