Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that the ongoing probe into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia has “identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest.” The paper reported that its sources say the person is a current senior staffer, but would not further identify who it is. Trump has repeatedly denied that he had any ties to Russian interference in the campaign, and says he has no business ties to Russia, either.
By acknowledging the exchange with the Russians, the White House has effectively admitted it lied in explaining why Comey was fired. The “nut job” conversation is the latest confirmation that Trump’s motivation in firing Comey was not, as he and his aides initially claimed, Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails; nor was it, as they subsequently claimed, a result of Comey losing the confidence of FBI agents. Instead, as Trump suggested in an interview with NBC News’s Lester Holt, he was upset about the Russia probe. A slew of other reports confirmed that behind closed doors, Trump was upset about the investigation, and Comey’s testimony under oath that Barack Obama had not “wiretapped” Trump, as the president claimed without evidence. His comments, and Spicer’s statement, also bolster allegations of political tampering and perhaps obstruction of justice by the president.
“If he knows that he personally faces criminal prosecution and his purpose in trying to shut down or slow down the investigation is to prevent him from getting caught, or if he knows that someone he knows or cares about is at criminal risk, like a friend or a family member, and the purpose is to protect them from criminal indictment, then I think anyone would view that as obstruction,” said Bruce Green, a law professor at Fordham and a former associate counsel for the independent counsel in the Iran-Contra case. Although it's not clear a sitting president could be prosecuted for obstruction, both that and related charges would turn on Trump’s state of mind, and whether he had what the law terms “corrupt intent.”
“It does reflect intent to slow down a criminal investigation, but the ostensible purpose reflected in the article isn't necessarily a corrupt one, it seems to be his notion that the criminal investigation is interfering with foreign policy." Green said. "That's not necessarily corrupt intent."
John Q. Barrett, a law professor at St. John's University and a former associate counsel for the special prosecutor in the Iran-Contra affair, offered a one-word assessment. "Oy," he wrote in an email. Barrett added, “This is one more detail, potentially important as evidence of the president’s state of mind and his purpose in firing FBI Director Comey, that both Special Counsel Mueller and Congressional committees need to investigate further and evaluate.”