On Saturday, President Donald Trump appeared to tweet what some characterized as a self-incriminating admission of obstructing justice. Now one of his lawyers, John Dowd, has claimed that he, not the president, wrote the tweet—but a lot of people, including other lawyers, aren’t convinced.
The tweet in question followed Michael Flynn’s guilty plea on Friday for lying to the FBI over his contacts with the Russian government during the post-election transition period. The national security advisor resigned in February after the nature of a conversation with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak was exposed. Flynn had apparently told Vice-President Mike Pence that the conversation was just small talk, but the FBI established that it was “highly significant” as the two had discussed sanctions—something that would have been illegal, as Flynn was still a private citizen at the time.
With Flynn under investigation, Trump went on to fire FBI director James Comey a few months later. Comey subsequently testified to Congress that the firing followed an unsuccessful attempt by Trump to get Comey to drop the Flynn case.
Fast-forward to Saturday, and a tweet from the president’s account read: “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!”
The problem with that explanation is that it indicated Trump knew about Flynn’s lie to the FBI—a significant crime—in early 2017. As Comey said under oath that the president then tried to get him to drop the case, that episode therefore “feels a lot like obstruction,” in the words of Harvard Law School professor Alex Whiting.
“I would just say this with the president: There’s an ongoing criminal investigation,” said Republican senator Lindsey Graham. “You tweet and comment regarding ongoing criminal investigations at your own peril.”
Enter Trump lawyer John Dowd, who explained to Reuters that he had drafted Trump’s tweet and “should have put the lying to the FBI in a separate line referencing his plea.”
“Instead, I put it together and made all you guys go crazy,” Dowd said. “A tweet is a shorthand…I’m sorry I misled people.” He also told Axios: “The tweet did not admit obstruction. That is an ignorant and arrogant assertion.”
Walter Shaub, who resigned as director of the Office of Government Ethics in July, tweeted that Dowd’s explanation “makes no sense.”
Other lawyers also weren’t buying it.
Meanwhile, the president has been doubling down on his claim that Comey is lying about Trump having told him to drop the Flynn probe.
Trump also claimed that the FBI’s reputation is “in tatters—worst in history,” which prompted strong pushback from the FBI Agents Association.