On Saturday, President Trump tweeted that he fired his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, because he learned that he lied to the FBI.
I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 2, 2017
This was a very problematic admission. According to former FBI Director James Comey, shortly after the firing, Trump asked Comey to end his investigation of Flynn. Comey refused, and Trump later fired Comey. His explanations for the Comey firing vary, but on a national TV interview Trump admitted it was due to Comey’s refusal to drop the investigation into Flynn and others who may have been conspiring with Russia.
The tweet, according to several legal experts, could be considered evidence of obstruction of justice. Trump was not trying to get Comey to drop the Flynn investigation because he thought it was a waste of time. Rather, according to the tweet, Trump knew that Flynn committed a crime (lying to the FBI) and asked for the investigation to be dropped anyway.
Then Trump’s personal attorney, John Dowd, tried to change the narrative.
Dowd contacted numerous members of the media to say that he, John Dowd, was actually the author of Trump’s tweet. Any implication that Trump knew that Flynn lied to the FBI prior to his firing was unintentional and not Trump’s fault, according to Dowd.
The idea that a high-priced attorney would accidentally write an incriminating tweet on behalf of his client strains credulity. But even setting that issue aside, Dowd’s explanation makes no sense.
Dowd’s story is that former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House that Flynn had given an incorrect accounting of his conversation with the Russian Ambassador to Vice President Pence. According to Dowd, Yates told the White House that Flynn told the same untrue story to FBI agents.
But, Dowd says, Trump did not know that Flynn lied to FBI agents because “the [Justice] Department didn’t want to make an accusation of lying.” Therefore, at the time of Flynn’s firing, Trump “knew was that the department was not accusing him of lying.”
Here’s the problem: Telling FBI agents something you know is not true is the definition of lying. Dowd’s attempt to make a distinction between telling an untrue story and “lying” makes no sense at all.
Dowd also refuses to say if Trump reviewed the tweet before it was posted. “Enough already. I don’t feed the haters,” Dowd told CNN.
This is all very perplexing in light of the fact that Yates actually testified in May that she refused to discuss Flynn’s interview with the FBI with the White House. So Dowd is contradicting Yates’ testimony. He’s also doing it in a way that undermines his excuse for Trump.
It’s unclear what, exactly, is going on. But one thing that is clear is that Dowd views this tweet as extremely problematic. He is now doing anything he can think of to mitigate the damage. So far it’s not going very well.
UPDATE (12/4, 1:25PM): A source tells CNN that Trump knew Flynn lied to the FBI in February. He was told, according to CNN, by White House council Don McGahn.