Cristian Farias writes: Just days before the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, a federal court in Washington quietly expanded the powers of Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel investigating the long-running Whitewater controversy. Thanks to that court order, the prosecutor could now look into whether Lewinsky and others “violated federal law” in connection with an unrelated civil lawsuit by Paula Jones against President Bill Clinton. And that meant Starr even had the authority to subpoena White House lawyers who may know about potential crimes implicating the president and his office.
That bit of ancient ’90s history is suddenly relevant. Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating potential criminal activity arising from Russia’s interference in the presidential election, may rely on legal precedent from that era and beyond to get the White House to cooperate with the probe. The New York Times reported Wednesday that Mueller has requested a detailed list of documents related to 13 areas of interest to his inquiry. They include some of Trump’s more troubling moments while in office, such as the firing of James Comey in May. Or the time Trump told Russian officials visiting the Oval Office that getting rid of the FBI director, whom he had relieved a day earlier, took “great pressure” off the administration. Or the circumstances surrounding the firing of Michael Flynn, who remained in his post as Trump’s first national security adviser, despite warnings from Sally Yates, then the acting attorney general, that he may be compromised by the Russians.
Ty Cobb, the attorney leading the White House response to Mueller, has already indicated that he wants to play nice with the special counsel and turn over as many documents as possible. But of all places, he seems to be facing resistance from within: Donald McGahn, the White House counsel, was described by Cobb — within earshot of a reporter — as someone who is “very conservative” with the production of documents, some of which he appears to keep “locked in a safe,” according to a Times report earlier this week. [Continue reading…]