The New York Times report begins with an anecdote about how the president insisted Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who had previously said part of his job was to "jump on a grenade" for Trump, hire one of his allies to take over the investigation into him and his campaign.
As federal prosecutors in Manhattan gathered evidence late last year about President Trump’s role in silencing women with hush payments during the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump called Matthew G. Whitaker, his newly installed attorney general, with a question. He asked whether Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Trump ally, could be put in charge of the widening investigation, according to several American officials with direct knowledge of the call.
Berman had already recused himself from the investigation due to conflicts of interest. According to the Times, Whitaker soon fell out of favor with the president.
Rolling Stone reports the Times also uncovered evidence the president had encouraged certain sympathetic Republican lawmakers to work to publicly discredit the investigation.
[I]n an effort to cultivate public skepticism of Mueller’s investigation, Trump reportedly had private conversations with Republicans to strategize about how to discredit the probe. The president encouraged lawmakers like Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), then the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, as they went on the offensive to defend the president. This included opening investigations into how the FBI handled investigations relating to Hillary Clinton, as well as “forcing into the open some of the government’s most sensitive investigative files” in order to muddy the waters and raise suspicion.
In the worst-case scenario, his incessant private, public and political efforts to influence the investigations could add up to obstruction of justice in plain sight -- and even form part of any future articles of impeachment.
Asked by CNN's Brooke Baldwin whether Trump's request to Whitaker amounted to obstruction, Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor, answered: "What else could it be?"
"What other reason could the President have for calling Matt Whitaker right as the Cohen investigation was growing and starting to threaten him ... and asking Whitaker, 'Can we get my guy?'" he said.
A recent Washington Post survey shows over two-thirds of all respondents would support impeachment proceedings if there was evidence the president had obstructed justice. Over one-third of self-identified Republicans would support impeachment.
For his part, Trump maintains the report is nothing but falsehoods, saying, "There's a lot of fake news out there."
Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker also denied the accusations when he testified under oath in front of the House Judiciary Committee. Whitaker says he was never pressured by the White House to interfere, in any way, with the Mueller investigation.
According to the New York Times, the president's lawyers maintain he has been so public with his feelings about the investigation that he could not possibly be accused of participating in a conspiracy.
The president has been public about his disdain for the Mueller investigation and other federal inquiries, so he is hardly engaged in a conspiracy. He fired one F.B.I. director and considered firing his replacement. He humiliated his first attorney general for being unable to “control” the Russia investigation and installed a replacement, Mr. Whitaker, who has told people he believed his job was to protect the president. But that, they say, is Donald Trump being Donald Trump.
In other words, the president’s brazen public behavior might be his best defense.