Mueller Digging Through Trump's Tweets To Make Obstruction Case

President Trump's famous (or infamous) tweets have now fallen under the investigatory lens of special counsel Robert Mueller as part of the ever-ongoing probe of Trumpworld, reports the New York Times. Mueller will attempt to tie Trump's tweets to the Russia investigation; public attacks; misleading White House statements; and possible offers to pardon potential witnesses. 

In particular, Mueller is focusing on tweets concerning Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former FBI Director James Comey in order to stitch together a mosaic leading to the "obstruction" chapter of the saga, according to "three people briefed on the matter," the gold standard in anonymous sources.

Several of the remarks came as Mr. Trump was also privately pressuring the men — both key witnesses in the inquiry — about the investigation, and Mr. Mueller is examining whether the actions add up to attempts to obstruct the investigation by both intimidating witnesses and pressuring senior law enforcement officials to tamp down the inquiry. -NYT

Trump's lawyers argue that none of what Mueller is targeting constitutes obstruction, including the firing Comey - which falls under Trump's authority as President.

Also, Comey's firing wouldn't have affected the ongoing counterintelligence operation taken over by acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, which was subsequently handed over to Mueller after Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein authorized the special counsel. 

But privately, some of the lawyers have expressed concern that Mr. Mueller will stitch together several episodes, encounters and pieces of evidence, like the tweets, to build a case that the president embarked on a broad effort to interfere with the investigation. Prosecutors who lack one slam-dunk piece of evidence in obstruction cases often search for a larger pattern of behavior, legal experts said. -NYT

Mueller's team have told Trump's lawyers that they are examining the tweets under obstruction laws beefed up after the Enron scandal, according to the three anonymous sources - who also noted that Mueller is scrutinizing Trump actions under a section of US code titled "Tampering With a Witness, Victim, or an Informant." 

President Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, dismissed the special counsel's interest in Trump's tweets, saying "If you’re going to obstruct justice, you do it quietly and secretly, not in public." 

One incident Mueller has also been looking at is a confrontation reported in May between Trump and Sessions, in which the President berated Sessions for stepping aside from the Russia investigation, before asking the Attorney General to un-recuse himself from the case - a request Sessions declined. 

“The confrontation, which has not been previously reported, is being investigated by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, as are the president’s public and private attacks on Mr. Sessions and efforts to get him to resign. Mr. Trump dwelled on the recusal for months, according to confidants and current and former administration officials who described his behavior toward the attorney general,” reported the Times.

In fact, Mueller's team has also learned that Trump has tried to persuade Sessions to resign at several points in May and July 2017 so that he could be replaced with a loyalist to oversee the Russia inquiry. 

After Mr. Trump tried last July to get Mr. Sessions to resign, the president began a three-day public attack on a variety of fronts — tweets, a Rose Garden news conference and a Wall Street Journal interview — criticizing Mr. Sessions, raising the specter that he would fire him. -NYT

Trump has publicly stated that he would have chosen another Attorney General if he knew Sessions was going to recuse himself from the Russia investigation (although any AG who campaigned with Trump would have fallen under similar pressure to recuse).

That said, it may not be so easy to arrive at an obstruction charge...

If Mr. Mueller opts to tailor a narrative that the president tried to obstruct the Russia investigation, he would have to clear several hurdles to make a strong case. He would need credible witnesses (Mr. Comey and Mr. Sessions have been the target of concerted attacks by Mr. Trump and allies, undercutting their standing) and evidence that Mr. Trump had criminal intent (the special counsel has told the president’s lawyers he needs to question him to determine this). -NYT

“There’s rarely evidence that someone sits down and says, ‘I intend to commit a crime,’ so any type of investigation hangs on using additional evidence to build a narrative arc that hangs together,” said Samuel W. Buell, a professor of law at Duke University and former senior federal prosecutor. “That’s why a prosecutor wants more pieces of evidence. You need to lock down the argument.”