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Benjamin Wittes: It's Not Just Obstruction, It's Lying About Collusion

"That's getting kind of close to the molten core of the investigation subject," Wittes said.
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Morning Joe opened with Buzzfeed's bombshell story from last night, saying that Trump ordered Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the ongoing Moscow deal. (The original story is reported as sourced with law enforcement officials, which tells me the source is more likely from the SDNY investigation than Mueller's.)

"This was reported out and the report does say these federal investigators, law enforcement officials, say that Mueller has it backed up not just by Michael Cohen but by e-mails, texts and other documents by the special counsel's office," Willie Geist said to legal expert Benjamin Wittes.

"The story is a big deal for, I think, three independent reasons, or maybe interrelated reasons," Wittes said.

"The first is that, as Mika's introduction suggests, this is, if true, an obstruction of justice by anybody's standard, including the relatively restrictive ones laid out in Bill Barr's memo. And so there's a big debate about the parameters of how can you apply the obstruction statutes to things like valid presidential power exercises like firing the FBI director. There is no debate about whether directing somebody to lie under oath is a crime, right? So the first important element of the story is that it is a direct allegation of criminality by the president with respect to obstruction of the Russia investigation.

"The second important element, as you also alluded to, is that the story contains a whole lot of additional detail about the degree of involvement by the president and his family members in the underlying Trump Tower Moscow deal. And so the aggregate suggestion is that this is lying about collusion. That's getting kind of close to the molten core of the investigation subject," Wittes said.

"The third key element here, and this is different from other stories, this is attributed to law enforcement sources. I suspect that probably does not mean that it's a leak from the Mueller investigation, but it is sure likely to be interpreted that way and that is going to open up a new front for, in the fight between the special counsel's office and the president, as it gives the president's forces significant new ammunition to, you know, accuse the Mueller investigation now of leaking."


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"So Mike Barnicle, Rudy Giuliani did say last night responding to this Buzzfeed report, quote, if you believe Cohen, I can get you a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge. So again going after Michael Cohen. The Buzzfeed report says the special counsel's report learned about the directive to lie to Congress through interviews not just with Michael Cohen, but multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company e-mails, text messages and a cache of other documents."

I look forward to seeing the various Kama Sutra positions the Republican leadership will demonstrate as they try to downplay the legal implications of this news.

Update: Speaking of....

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