Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III is scrutinizing tweets and negative statements from the “president” about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former F.B.I. Director James B. Comey, according to three people briefed on the matter.
This excerpt is pulled from Michael S. Schmidt’s and Maggie Haberman’s article, “Mueller Examining Trump’s Tweets in Wide-Ranging Obstruction Inquiry,” published by the New York Times on July 26, 2018.
Several of Donald Trump’s remarks came as he was also privately pressuring the men — both key witnesses in the inquiry — about the investigation, and 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.
Mueller wants to question the president about the tweets. His interest in them is the latest addition to a range of presidential actions he is investigating as a possible obstruction case: private interactions with Comey, Sessions and other senior administration officials about the Russia inquiry; misleading White House statements; public attacks; and possible pardon offers to potential witnesses.
Trump’s lawyers argue publicly that none of what Mueller has honed in on constitutes obstruction of justice. But privately, some of the lawyers have expressed concern that 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.
The special counsel’s investigators have told Trump’s lawyers they are examining the tweets under a wide-ranging obstruction-of-justice law beefed up after the Enron accounting scandal, according to the three people.
The investigators did not explicitly say they were examining possible witness tampering, but the nature of the questions they want to ask Trump, and the fact that they are scrutinizing his actions under a section of the United States Code titled “Tampering With a Witness, Victim, or an Informant,” raised concerns for Trump’s lawyers about his exposure in the investigation.
Investigators want to ask Trump about the tweets he wrote about Sessions and Comey and why he has continued to publicly criticize Comey and the former deputy F.B.I. director, Andrew G. McCabe, another witness against the president.
They also want to know about a January episode in the Oval Office in which Trump asked the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, about reports that McGahn told investigators about the president’s efforts to fire Mueller himself last year.
Around the time Trump said publicly last summer that he would have chosen another attorney general had he known Sessions was going to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, Trump tried behind closed doors to persuade Sessions to reverse that decision.
The special counsel’s investigators have also learned that Trump wanted Sessions to resign at varying points in May and July 2017 so he could replace him with a loyalist to oversee the Russia investigation.
After Trump tried last July to get 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 Sessions, raising the specter that he would fire him.
A day later, Trump doubled down, criticizing both Sessions again and McCabe, who was the acting F.B.I. director at the time.
A few weeks later, in early May, an aide to Sessions sought derogatory information about the F.B.I. director and wanted one negative article a day in the news media about Comey.
Four days later, Trump fired Comey.