The special counsel leading the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election is now expanding the scope of its investigation to examine whether President Trump obstructed justice, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
The move by Robert Mueller III to investigate Trump’s conduct and whether he attempted to obstruct justice marks a turning point for the nearly year-old FBI investigation which so far has focused on Russian meddling during the presidential campaign and whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
Shortly after taking office, President Trump received several assurances from then-FBI Director James Comey that he was not under investigation. However, the Post reports that changed after Mr. Trump fired Comey in early May.
On March 20, Comey confirmed to the House Intelligence Committee that the FBI was investigating whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
After that testimony, Mr. Trump asked Comey to publicly state that the president was not under investigation – a request which Comey refused.
Comey’s refusal to say publicly that the president was not under investigation frustrated Mr. Trump as rumors swirled about collusion.
In the days after Comey’s firing, The New York Times published excerpts of a memo Comey wrote about a February meeting he had with the president. According to Comey, Mr. Trump mentioned the FBI’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn where appeared to suggest Comey drop the investigation:
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
That quote led to allegations of obstruction of justice and is cited as the main reason that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein chose to appoint a special counsel.
In his testimony last Thursday, Comey testified that he thought the president was ordering him to drop the investigation.
“I took it as a direction. This is the president and me alone, and he says, this is what I want you to do.”
Republicans have defended Mr. Trump by saying the president was just speaking like a New Yorker and that hoping for for a certain outcome is not the same as demanding a certain outcome.
Investigators will look at Mr. Trump’s statements to those inside and outside of government about his reasons for firing James Comey and his concern about the Russia probe to determine if the president was trying to impede the investigation.