May 17, 2017 will be remembered as the day the investigation of Donald J. Trump got serious. Capping off an incredible eight days of increasingly explosive revelations and admissions, yesterday Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the appointment of a special prosecutor with wide-ranging powers to investigate all things Trump, Russia and any relevant obstructions of justice. In his message, Rosenstein wrote:
"What I have determined is that based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command."The need for this became clear when by admissions from his own mouth, the President told of his own interference, using his position at the head of that chain of command to try to put a halt to an investigation of which he could be a subject, the FBI investigation looking into Russian hacking of the 2016 US election and the possibility of complicity from within the Trump presidential campaign. Until quite recently I was reserving judgment on the impeachment question. Three weeks ago I was asked by conservative friends whether "like most of those liberals you think Trump ought to be impeached." My response was "No, I certainly feel that's a little premature." I'm not reserving judgment any longer. Trump has, in my view, convicted himself by his own words.
Trump can't even stick to his own lies. When he fired FBI Director James Comey his Administration was ready with a concocted story, spread by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, that the initiative came only after Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his Deputy Rod Rosenstein wrote letters to Trump castigating Comey's performance on the job and his handling of Secretary Clinton's email investigation last year and calling for his removal. Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Saunders said Trump "made the decision yesterday" and morale was at a low point in the FBI, whose agents had "lost confidence" in Comey. She said she had heard from "countless agents in the FBI" to this effect. Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe flatly rejected these assertions, saying they were "not accurate."
Trump blew this carefully constructed web of justificatory lies to pieces in a nationally broadcast interview with NBC News anchor Lester Holt. See the 13-minute interview here.
Trump admitted he had made the decision long before. He said he was going to fire Comey regardless of any recommendations. He admitted he had called Director Comey and asked if he were under investigation. He said he spoke with Comey at a private dinner at the White House and, in the context of Comey "wanting to keep his job" again pointedly asked if he were under investigation, the clear implication being that if he were, Comey's job might be in jeopardy. Trump said Comey assured him he was not being investigated, another assertion Acting Director McCabe has called "farcical." In the Holt interview Trump also let slip his real justification for the firing: that the Russian investigation is phony and must be stopped. By his own admission then, Trump told of the actions he took to short circuit an investigation of his own presidential campaign and his motives for doing so. These actions and the intents behind them constitute, in my judgment, a clear attempt to obstruct justice in this investigation. That is a crime and an impeachable offense.
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller was tabbed by Rosenstein as special counsel. Mueller served under both Presidents Bush and Obama, and is universally praised by Democrats and Republicans alike for his professionalism, honor, sense of justice and dedication to ethical principles. He will now conduct a thorough investigation with full power to issue subpoenas and bring indictments. He could even subpoena Trump's tax returns to determine ties to Russia, for instance. The highly public congressional committee investigations will continue. Mueller's inquiry will proceed out of sight of the television lights, but will, when it releases its findings, likely have more import. The presidency of Donald J. Trump is at stake, and if it falls it will be by Trump's own doing.