It was, of course, a startling moment, though the former cabinet secretary didn’t go into additional details about the kind of illegalities Trump wanted him to commit. As Rachel noted on the show last night, however, Bloomberg News appears to have uncovered an amazing instance.
President Donald Trump pressed then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to help persuade the Justice Department to drop a criminal case against an Iranian-Turkish gold trader who was a client of Rudy Giuliani, according to three people familiar with the 2017 meeting in the Oval Office.
Tillerson refused, arguing it would constitute interference in an ongoing investigation of the trader, Reza Zarrab, according to the people. They said other participants in the Oval Office were shocked by the request.
Tillerson immediately repeated his objections to then-Chief of Staff John Kelly in a hallway conversation just outside the Oval Office, emphasizing that the request would be illegal.
As much of the country has no doubt noticed, we’re in the midst of a presidential impeachment inquiry, which is evaluating Trump’s possible high crimes and misdemeanors. With this in mind, it’s worth emphasizing that if the president urged his secretary of State to interfere with the Justice Department, derailing the prosecution of one of Giuliani’s clients – a client who faced serious criminal charges – that would almost certainly constitute an impeachable offense.
Which is to say, another impeachable offense.
The details about the Giuliani’s client are a little complex, and I’d encourage you to read the full Bloomberg report and watch last night’s segment for the relevant details. But taking a step back, I’m amazed by some of the big-picture takeaways, including the fact that Trump, for all of his posturing about being “tough” on Iran, reportedly personally tried to intervene to protect an Iranian-Turkish gold trader who was accused of evading sanctions on Iran.
The American president apparently realized it’d be problematic if he contacted the Justice Department in order to stop the prosecution, so he allegedly directed Tillerson to do it for him.
For his part, Giuliani has denounced the story, though he conceded to Bloomberg News that he may have “dropped” his client’s name “in a conversation” with Trump. Asked if he spoke to Tillerson about the case, Giuliani added, “[Y[ou have no right to know that.”
There is a pattern in this White House of Donald Trump allegedly interfering in ongoing Justice Department criminal investigations. Now, there’s a brand new one.
Postscript: Colin Kahl, who worked on national security issues in the Obama/Biden White House, noted overnight that during the recent Democratic administration, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “pushed us hard” on the Zarrab case, but Obama administration officials told Turkey it wouldn’t be appropriate for the White House “to interfere in such cases.”
Things changed after Jan. 20, 2017.