As former national security adviser, Michael Flynn takes center stage in the Russia investigation with his plea bargain agreement with Robert Mueller and his special counsel team, the plot thickens and the noose tightens.
With Flynn pleading guilty to lying to FBI investigators, a relatively modest offense, the odds are high that he has provided, or will soon provide, powerful evidence against others.
Attention will now turn to other suspects and alleged crimes, especially obstruction of justice.
Now we learn that President Trump, who once told the Russian foreign minister that he lowered the pressure he was facing in the Russia investigation by firing former FBI Director James Comey, had conducted a high-pressure campaign with key Senate Republicans to end the Russia investigations being conducted by key committees.
The most striking fact in the New York Times story about presidential pressure to derail Senate investigations of Russia was that Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), an honorable man and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was so troubled by Trump’s pressure that he decided to speak publicly about it.
While Trump’s pressure on Senate Republicans probably does not itself constitute an obstruction of justice, it will constitute additional powerful evidence if special counsel Robert Mueller ultimately persuades a grand jury to indict Trump or any of his associates on wider counts of obstruction of justice.
There are multiple publicly known facts that could support an obstruction of justice charge. These facts have strong evidentiary value that would be presented in court, with a galaxy of prominent witnesses to these facts who would be called to testify at trial if and when obstruction charges are brought.
The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and other Senate Republicans Trump contacted in his pressure campaign to derail the congressional investigation, could well be called as witnesses for the prosecution at any potential obstruction of justice trial. If this occurs, the prosecution could cite this pressure on Senate Republicans as evidence of intent, motive and action to obstruct justice by seeking to derailing multiple investigations of the Russian attack against America that continues today.
Many nationally respected legal analysts believe that Mueller and his special counsel team are actively investigating whether or not the president or his associates engaged in obstruction of justice. Mueller’s final judgment on this matter, and whether he will ultimately decide to press charges for this, remains unknown at this time.
The president has a major obstruction of justice problem that will not be solved by attacks against his political opponents, or any of the daily diversions the president provides on his Twitter account, some of which may make his legal situation even more precarious.
The potential culpability of the president and others involving obstruction of justice will be decided by evidence, facts and law as viewed by the special counsel and the grand jury considering the matter.
It was wrong, and has evidentiary value, for the president to fire former New York U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara while he was investigating the Russia scandal.
It was wrong, and has evidentiary value, for the president to fire former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates when she warned the White House that Russians could have material to blackmail his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
It was wrong, and has evidentiary value, for the president to fire former FBI Director James Comey while he was investigating the Russia scandal, after asking Comey to drop the investigation of Flynn. It was a terrible mistake by Trump, and has evidentiary value, for Trump to admit the reason he fired Comey was to lower pressure on himself brought by the investigation that Comey was then leading.
It was wrong, and has evidentiary value, for the president to humiliate and threaten Attorney General Jeff Sessions through intense public criticism and letting it be known he might fire Sessions. It was wrong, and has evidentiary value, for Sessions to refuse to tell the House Intelligence Committee whether Trump has pressured him to end or limit the Russia investigation, which he will be asked about by the special counsel and may have to testify about in court.
It was wrong, and has evidentiary value, for Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigation and then take actions that impeded the Russia investigation he had recused himself from, such as supporting the firing of Comey.
In this context it was wrong, and has evidentiary value, for Trump to pressure Senate Republicans to cut short their investigations of the Russia scandal.
It is wrong, and has evidentiary value, that Trump stands virtually alone among high-level officials in refusing to unequivocally state that the Russians have attacked our country, and continue to attack our country, which intelligence and law enforcement agencies warn about today.
Stay tuned for the next blockbuster event in the Russian scandal, which is probably imminent after the Flynn plea bargain. Sealed indictments or other plea bargains may have already been reached but not yet disclosed. If not, they will probably happen soon. There are multiple issues involving multiple Trump associates now under investigation, including failure to disclose foreign contacts as required by law.
The potential for an obstruction of justice charge is real and growing. The Flynn plea will set off a chain reaction with more evidence, revelations, indictments and plea bargains that will continue to make Trump’s cold Russian winter colder by the day, until the investigation is concluded and the fate of the Trump presidency is decided one way or the other, once and for all.
Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the U.S. House of Representatives. He holds an LLM in international financial law from the London School of Economics.