CNN analyst explains why Trump's request that intel officials deny evidence of Russian collusion in FBI probe is a problem
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On CNN's New Day legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin noted that, “when you look at the full pattern of activity” from President Donald Trump, “culminating with the firing of James Comey as FBI director, it certainly lays out facts worthy of investigating whether the president obstructed justice.” Toobin added, "there's a distinction" between asking your press secretary to claim publicly that there's no evidence of collusion, and asking an intelligence official to do so because "that's someone who should be investigating that, not just a mouthpiece for you." Toobin was referring to The Washington Post’s report “Trump asked intelligence chiefs to push back against FBI collusion probe after Comey revealed its existence.” The Post’s report noted that "current and former senior intelligence officials viewed Trump's request as an attempt by the president to tarnish the credibility of the agency leading the Russia investigation" and a "threat to the independence of U.S. spy agencies." From the May 23 edition of CNN's New Day:
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CHRIS CUOMO:(CO-HOST): Next issue, the idea that the president of the United States went to [Daniel] Coats and [Admiral Michael] Rogers, the head of the DNI and the head of the NSA and said, "Can you please go in public and say that there is no proof of collusion?" They didn't like the idea, so they didn't do it. What's its relevance to you, legally?
JEFFREY TOOBIN: Well, it's all part of the same group of facts, which is,was Donald Trump trying to impede the FBI investigation of the Russia connection? Whether this is a separate act of obstruction of justice or an act of obstruction at all, I don't know. That's certainly what [FBI special counsel Robert] Mueller is going to have to investigate. But when you look at the full pattern of activity, culminating with the firing of James Comey as FBI director, it certainly lays out facts worthy of investigating whether the president obstructed justice. And, this statement to these intelligence officials is just another piece of that evidence.
CUOMO: What if the president says, "I didn't know that was obstruction of justice. I was just asking my guys if they could do me a solid on this because I don't think there's anything to it"?
ROBERT RAY: Well, a couple of things: one is that -- the first point is that ignorance of the law is no defense. So, that's sort of the basic principle. But I mean, more importantly than that, he might actually be right. If there is, in fact, no evidence, and there was no collusion, having your people go out and say something to that effect, there's nothing wrong with that. And even if there ultimately is shown to be some evidence of collusion, if he's managing, you know, a news story, it's a big stretch to say that's obstruction of justice.
TOOBIN: I think there's a distinction here between telling your press secretary to go out and say there's no evidence of collusion here -- there's certainly nothing inappropriate about that. That's what press secretaries do. If you go to an intelligence official to say that based on all the evidence you are instructing him to say there is no evidence of collusion, that gets, I think, a little more squirrely because that's someone who should be investigating that, not just a mouthpiece for you.