As most things tweeted by Trump, the issue raised is far more complex than 140 or 280 characters can address. In this case, there’s the “obstruction of justice” story, the “he didn’t do it” story, and jarring rejection of social media best practices.
The timing is an issue: did Trump know that Flynn had lied to the FBI when he tried to convince then-FBI Director James Comey to stop investigating Flynn? If yes, that’s obstruction of justice.
Former federal government ethics director Walter Shaub was blunt:
Tell us, @realDonaldTrump, did you know Flynn had lied to the FBI when Counsel to the President Don McGahn snubbed Yates as she tried to warn the White House Flynn had been compromised?
Did you know Flynn had lied to the FBI when you fired Yates days after her whistleblowing?
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) December 2, 2017
Next, the too-crazy-to-be-believed explanation
After Twitter went into overdrive, Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, claimed he sent the tweet.
According to Mike Allen at Axios, Dowd drafted the tweet and gave it to White House social media director Dan Scavino. We’ll get back to this in a moment.
According to Dowd, in his conversation with Allen, this is what happened:
When acting attorney general Sally Yates (later fired by Trump) went to the White House on Jan. 26, she told White House Counsel Don McGahn that Flynn had “given the agents the same story he gave the Vice President” about his interactions with Russians.
There’s one thing wrong with this claim: Yates told Congress, UNDER OATH, that she did not do this. From the Yates transcript before Congress:
We began our meeting [with White House counsel Don McGahn] telling him that there had been press accounts of statements from the vice president and others that related conduct that Mr. Flynn had been involved in that we knew not to be the truth.
Yates explained the importance of alerting the White House:
We felt like it was critical that we get this information to the White House in part because the vice president was unknowingly making false statements to the public and because we believed that General Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians.
In other words, Yates was advising the White House that Flynn was lying to the Vice President because she did not think Pence was knowingly misleading the public.
Sen. Blumenthal pointed out that “the meeting that the FBI conducted [with Flynn] on January 24th preceded by one day, approximately, your first meeting with Donald McGahn.”
He then asked: “Isn’t it a fact that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI?”
Yates replied: “I can’t reveal the internal FBI investigation, Senator.”
Blumenthal followed up: “Did you tell Donald McGahn that then-National Security Adviser Flynn told the truth to the FBI?”
Yates was clear: “No, he [McGhan] asked me how he [Flynn] had done in the interview, and I specifically declined to answer that… I was intentionally not letting him know how the interview had gone.”
But Dowd is claiming the opposite: that Yates said that Flynn told the FBI “the same story” that he told the Vice President.
Moreover, Dowd is Trump’s personal lawyer. Why would he be weighing in on official White House communications?
Who do you believe, Yates or Dowd?
What else is wrong with this picture?
Setting aside the political and legal ramifications of the tweet, there are three additional things wrong with this picture.
First, Dowd indirectly claims that he drafted a tweet that was sent not by Trump but by the White House social media director.
The very name of the account, @realDonaldTrump, is at odds with such a claim. On the other hand, Trump leases his name to so many things that he may treat the Twitter account like one of “his” buildings around the world.
Second, normally accounts of politicians and celebrities carry an identifier when tweets are not composed by the named author. This is a social media best practice, and if Trump’s account is being run by anyone other than Trump, this practice should become SOP post haste, especially when tweets appear to be setting foreign policy.
Evidence suggests Scavino is responsible for publishing some of Trump’s tweets — without our knowing if he also writes them.
Wired published some “tells” in October when trying to determine if a tweet originates with Scavino or Trump.
- If the tweet consists of nothing but words and the occasional @-mention, Donald Trump probably did the tweet. CHECK.
- If it’s text-only and sent between 6 pm and 10 am, Donald Trump probably published the tweet. NOPE – however, this does not rule out his having dictated it. Was he playing golf on Saturday at noon?
Third, publicly-available meta-data show that the Tweet was sent by an iPhone: just like the tweets before and after it and all of Trump’s tweets since earlier in the year when he had to give up his Android phone.
If the tweet was sent by staff, not Trump, in a normal environment the tweet would be sent via a service like Hootsuite that makes it easy to compose tweets in advance and schedule the time of publishing. But this one was sent by an iPhone, which means someone other than Trump would have the password to set up the account on their own phone.
Yet another example of how the Trump Administration deliberately dissembles and obfuscates the truth.
This story is far from over.