The White House's chief lawyer told President Donald Trump in January he believed then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had misled the Federal Bureau of Investigation and lied to Vice President Mike Pence and should be fired, “a source familiar with the matter” said Monday, reported CNN.
White House counsel Donald McGahn, however, according to the source, did not tell the President that Flynn had violated the law in his FBI interview or was under criminal investigation, CNN reported.
Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, said Sunday that the president knew in late January that Flynn had probably given FBI agents the same inaccurate account he provided to the vice president about a call with the Russian ambassador, according to the Washington Post.
Sally Yates, who was acting attorney general, has testified before Congress that she declined to answer when McGahn asked her how Flynn did in his FBI interview, adding she informed told him that the national security advisor’s conduct was problematic in itself and the lawyer could visit the Justice Department to read for himself the underlying information.
In Congressional testimony, James Comey has stated Trump asked him to go easy on Flynn before the president fired Comey as director of the FBI, the lead domestic intelligence and law enforcement agency in the United States.
“If the reporting is true, and if Comey's testimony about what occurred at the February 14th meeting is credible, the President's actions meet the plain definition of obstruction of justice,” according to attorney Bradley Moss, who is deputy executive director of the James Madison Project, which promotes government accountability. “Such behavior could destroy his presidency.”
Moss tells VOA he expects Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the probe into alleged ties between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia, will likely ultimately conclude “that any action against the president can only be handled by Congress through impeachment. If the evidence is damning enough, will the Republicans turn on Trump? No one really knows.”
But Trump lawyer John Dowd contends a president cannot technically be charged with obstructing 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,” according to the Axios online news site.
Former Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz agrees. “You cannot charge a president with obstruction of justice for exercising his constitutional power to fire Comey and his constitutional authority to tell the Justice Department who to investigate and who not to investigate,” Dershowitz said in comments to Fox News.
Trump again expressed sympathy on Monday for Flynn, saying the former Defense Intelligence Agency director had been treated unfairly by investigators looking into Russia’s influence on the 2016 presidential election.
“I feel badly for General Flynn. I feel very badly," Trump told reporters. "He’s led a very strong life. And I feel very badly.”
Flynn, last Friday, entered a guilty plea to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador — a conversation that occurred weeks before Trump’s inauguration.
The president compared Flynn’s lies with comments made by his presidential rival Hillary Clinton when asked by federal investigators about her emails.
“Hillary Clinton lied many times to the FBI. Nothing happened to her. Flynn lied and they destroyed his life. I think it’s a shame," Trump said Monday as he departed the White House on a trip to Utah.
The president noted Clinton was not under oath when she spoke to the FBI, while Flynn was.
Comey testified in July before the House Oversight Committee that "We have no basis to conclude she lied” to agents investigating her use of a private email server as secretary of state.
Trump’s comments come as legal experts and investigators are also parsing a tweet that appeared over the weekend on his Twitter account.
Trump tweeted that he "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!"
Dowd says he drafted the tweet himself, calling it "my mistake,” explaining that he then passed it to White House social media director Dan Scavino, who posted it to the @realdonaldtrump account.
Ned Price, who was a special assistant to President Barack Obama on the National Security Council staff, questioned whether Trump’s seemingly incriminating tweet could have been written by someone else. "It seems as implausible as it is convenient to President Trump," Price told VOA.
"The idea that a lawyer would draft that – without any input from or clearance by Trump – doesn't strike me as believable," said Price, a former CIA senior analyst and spokesperson. "Add that to the long list of cover-ups."