Before the election last year, there was an attempt to influence the outcome made by Russian state actors. These attempts sparked investigations into Russia’s methods, and eventually, investigators uncovered previously undisclosed contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence assets. These contacts so far have produced no concrete evidence of nefarious activity or collusion on the part of Trump’s associates, however, the more investigators seem to dig, the more difficult it is to assume the innocence of everyone involved.
After President Trump’s electoral victory in November, he set about assembling a staff primarily made up of campaign loyalists, among them was Michael Flynn, a retired army general. Michael Flynn was under investigation for financial indiscretions that were not reported to officials at the Pentagon while he was renewing his security clearance. These included payments from Russia for a speech and payments from Turkey for consulting work. The combined sum was over half a million dollars which he neglected to disclose.
The Trump administration was warned about possible improprieties in connection with Flynn, but ignored the warnings, under the assumption there was a partisan motivation behind them. Within three weeks of joining the administration, Flynn was forced to resign amid accusations that he had lied to Vice President Pence.
The resignation and subsequent circumstances surrounding the ongoing investigation into Flynn led to the current controversy surrounding James Comey, the former head of the FBI. On Feb 13th, Flynn was forced to resign, and Feb 14th President Trump said to then Director of the FBI James Comey “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
On March 20 Comey testified before congress concerning Russian interference into our elections. During this testimony, many believe he made statements that led to his eventual firing. First, he dismissed the notion that Obama had wiretapped President Trump. Second, he confirmed that the FBI was investigating possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. Publically pushing back against a conspiracy that Trump had been promoting, while simultaneously implying that some of Trump’s staff may have colluded with Russia, seems to have been a turning point in the tenure of Comey at the FBI. The Washington Post also reported that after this testimony, Trump reached out to intelligence officials, hoping to contradict Comey’s testimony, those efforts were rebutted.
On May 2nd, Trump criticized Comey on Twitter for not charging Hillary Clinton with any crimes. On May 8th Trump had a discussion with his Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein where he expressed his desire to fire Comey. This led to Rosenstein crafting a letter detailing failures of Comey related to the Clinton investigation. This letter is initially used as the public explanation for the firing of Comey on May 9th, but that narrative is short lived.
In the May 9th letter that accompanied the Comey firing, Trump says that Comey assured him three times that he wasn’t under investigation. This was a strange thing to include in a letter of dismissal, and the claims have been denied by multiple sources close to Comey. While this point remains unclear, it should be addressed in the testimony Comey is scheduled to give in the coming weeks.
On May 10th during a meeting with Russian officials, Trump said about Comey “He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” This admission of intent also matched an interview he did with Lester Holt on May 11th where he made the following statement, directly contradicting the previous messaging of his staff. “He had made a recommendation. But regardless of recommendation, 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. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”
This obvious set of contradictions from the public narrative Trump had given his staff to follow directly after the Comey firing set off a firestorm of accusations about Trump attempting to obstruct justice. Publically claiming the firing was about a letter he had his Deputy AG draft about Comey, while privately and in subsequent interviews claiming it was about the Russian investigation had led to a conflict in the stories told by the administration. This conflict has brought us to the point we are currently at.
A special prosecutor has been assigned to review connections between the Trump administration and Russia. However, in my opinion, the investigation will also include the now loudly growing cries of possible obstruction of justice as well. The legal ramifications involved in trying to convict the President of a crime are very complicated, however, with how blatant and reckless the administration has been with its messaging around the Comey firing, it remains a possibility.
So now we have reached a point that deserves some reflection. People from both sides of the aisle have concerns, and it doesn’t appear those concerns will be addressed until at a minimum James Comey testifies publically in the coming weeks. The more likely result will be that Comey testifies, Trump fights against the validity of the testimony, and the story will go under wraps as the special prosecutor takes control of the case, reducing the amount of information the public receives until a conclusion is reached.