WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's effort to keep Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a vocal and loyal supporter of his election bid, in charge of an investigation into his campaign offers special counsel Robert Mueller yet another avenue to explore as his prosecutors work to untangle potential evidence of obstruction.
The federal investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia already includes a close look at whether Trump's actions as president constitute an effort to impede that same probe. Those include the firing of FBI Director James Comey, an allegation by Comey that Trump encouraged him to end an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the president's role in drafting an incomplete and potentially misleading statement about a 2016 meeting with Russians.
The latest revelation — that Trump directed his White House counsel, Don McGahn, to tell Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation — is known to Mueller's investigators, who have interviewed many current and former executive branch officials. It adds to the portrait of a president left furious by an investigation that he has called a hoax and suggests that he worked through an intermediary to keep the inquiry under the watch of an attorney general he expected would be loyal.
Three people familiar with the matter confirmed to The Associated Press that McGahn spoke with Sessions just before he announced his recusal to urge him not to do so. One of the people said McGahn contacted Sessions at the president's behest. All three spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid discussing an ongoing investigation.
"What this adds that is new is that he took action to prevent, to attempt to prevent, Sessions from recusing himself," said Notre Dame criminal law professor Jimmy Gurule, a former federal prosecutor. "So now we go simply beyond his state of mind, his personal beliefs, to taking concrete action to attempt to prevent Sessions from recusing himself."
Though the episode makes clear Trump's exasperation with the investigation, it remains unclear whether Mueller's team has evidence to establish that the president's collective actions were done with the corrupt intent needed to prove obstruction.