With claims of Russian collusion fading fast, the anti-Trump cabal looks more and more to the possibility that President Trump obstructed justice in their quest to take the president down.
A narrative that even found some life on Fox News — with Shepard Smith and Judge Andrew Napolitano, of course.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that the president tried to exert control in a probe by federal prosecutors in New York of hush-money payments during the 2016 campaign to women who claimed they had affairs with Trump.
The Times reported that Trump spoke to former Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker about having Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, oversee the investigation that centered on Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Berman, a Trump ally, had recused himself from the investigation because of his ties to the president.
President Trump denied the allegation when asked about it by a reporter, calling it “fake news.”
“No, not at all. I don’t know who gave you that. Just more fake news,” he said. “There is a lot of fake news out there. No, I didn’t.”
He was also asked about the status of his relationship with Whitaker.
“Very good. I have a lot of respect for Mr. Whitaker. I think he’s done a great job,” the president said. “He’s a very, very straight shooter. I watched him during the hearing. Some of it. I thought he was exceptional. He is a very fine man and he should be given a lot of thanks by our nation.”
The alleged conversation reportedly took place in the form of a phone call, and Fox News host Sheppard Smith had Napolitano, the network’s senior judicial analyst, on to discuss the bombshell report.
“If the Times reporting is accurate, the phone call would be evidence of what?” Smith asked.
“Corrupt intent,” Napolitano answered. “That is an effort to use the levers of power of the government for a corrupt purpose: to deflect an investigation into himself or his allies.”
Now, the former judge has a habit of saying things that seldom come to fruition, but he called the report “dynamite, lengthy and well-documented.”
And Smith asked if this amounts to obstruction.
“Yes,” Napolitano responded. “Well, it would be attempted obstruction. It would only be obstruction if it succeeded. But if you tried to interfere with a criminal prosecution that may knock at your own door by putting your ally in there, that is clearly an attempt to obstruct justice.”
“Where it goes from here, I don’t know,” he added. “But I tell you who is reading it as we speak: Bob Mueller and team.”
So “damning” was the analysis that MSNBC took note of it in their coverage of the NY Times report.
Anchor Nicolle Wallace called Smith “a great, great journalist” in playing a clip of the Fox News host.
Speaking with Robert Costa, the national political reporter for The Washington Post, Wallace asked him to respond.
“I flipped over to Fox News to see, one, if it was being covered, and to Shep Smith, a great, great journalist over there, credit, of course, it was,” she said. “He had on Judge Napolitano. Their analysis was damning. I want to show this to you and ask you how you think this is playing in the West Wing.”
After playing the clip, Wallace said it was “not a good omen for this president” given that the White House cares “very, very much… what happens on that network.”
Costa responded by trying to drive a wedge between President Trump and the GOP, while pushing the obstruction narrative.
“What the judge over there on Fox said is what Republicans now are facing on Capitol Hill.” he said. ” They see the legal storm clouds over this President about his conduct. They know that Paul Manafort and General [Mike] Flynn and others may have their own issues with Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, but now the president who has the Republican Party in his grip is facing mounting questions of obstruction or alleged obstruction of justice as outlined in The New York Times.
Calling it “the critical issue right now,” Costa laid the groundwork for the Democrat-led House to launch endless investigations of Trump as he pivoted away from claims of collusion to allegations of obstruction.
“You may not believe in Russian interference, was a big issue,” he said. “It was something unrelated to the president. But the president’s conduct, that is something in the spotlight and that will likely be detailed by [Special Counsel] Robert Mueller at some level. Dozens of instances of whether you call it obstruction or not, of behavior that Congress will have to scrutinize.”
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