Earlier today, a New York Times report revealed that President Donald Trump asked his then-acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker whether he could put ally Geoffrey Berman in charge of the Southern District of New York’s case against former Trump attorney Michael Cohen.
According to Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano, if the report is accurate, then the president is guilty of showing “corrupt intent” and potential obstruction of justice. Whitaker himself could also be in trouble, he said.
“There’s two potential crimes here for Matt Whitaker,” Napolitano said. “One is actual perjury, lying to the Congress. The other is misleading. Remember, you can be truthful but still misleading.”
But things look especially bad for the president: “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,” Napolitano said.
Asked by Fox News anchor Shepard Smith if the news amounted to obstruction of justice, Napolitano had this to say:
“Yes. Well, attempted obstruction. It would only be obstruction if it succeeded. 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.”
Trump has denied that he ever had a conversation with Whitaker about intervening in the federal investigation into hush money payments Cohen made to women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump.
“No, I didn’t,” Trump told reporters at the White House earlier today. “There’s a lot of fake news out there.”
Asked about NYT's report that he inquired with acting AG Whitaker about putting a loyalist in charge of SDNY's investigation of the Trump Organization, Trump pauses for a beat before denying it. pic.twitter.com/rBuL9H80fr
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 19, 2019
But the report nonetheless amplified concerns that the president obstructed justice and opened Whitaker up to further criticism.
If Donald Trump asked Whitaker to interfere in the Cohen investigation with the sdny, we've entered some brand new obstruction of justice territory.
It doesn't matter if Whitaker didn't do it. It matters that Trump asked.
— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) February 19, 2019
This helps explain why Whitaker was so reluctant to talk about his conversations with Trump. Now Whitaker could be a witness in an obstruction of justice case against him. https://t.co/eAbhBsqaCy
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) February 19, 2019
This could spell trouble for Matthew Whitaker, who lied before Congress that Trump never pressured him over the various investigations. https://t.co/QvTGuMPx2g # via @HuffPostPol #OBSTRUCTION #ImpeachTrumpPence
— ROSIE (@Rosie) February 19, 2019
So, Trump asked Whitaker to obstruct justice. That’s a crime.
And Whitaker was less than candid about this when he testified before Congress. https://t.co/djWQPjMXpy
— Derek Cressman (@DerekCressman) February 19, 2019
The good: Whitaker dismissed the idea.
The bad: Whitaker perjured himself in front of Congress 11 days ago when asked if Trump had ever pressured him over various investigations. https://t.co/lvEnfWHBNL
— Neal Rogers (@nealrogers) February 19, 2019