You never want to be the subject of a federal investigation. Even if they can’t pin the crime they are investigating on you, they can convict you for your conduct during the investigation. Remember Martha Stewart? She was investigated for an illegal stock sale. But there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that. Nevertheless, she was sent to prison for obstructing the investigation. Same with Scooter Libby, who was investigated for leaking information about CIA agent Valerie Plame. That couldn’t be proven. But Libby was convicted for lying to an FBI agent during the investigation.
David French is a major conservative critic of Donald Trump, but he doesn’t think he colluded with the Russians. As an attorney, though, he warns Trump that he needs to be careful. Offering to testify under oath about Come, for example, was not wise. French brings up the Stewart and Libby examples and discusses the areas in which Trump is vulnerable. No attorney, he observes, wants a client “who won’t stop talking.”
In reality, Trump isn’t out of the woods, not by a long shot, and he has to understand that his fate depends not just on the things that happened before, but also on his self-discipline going forward. Even if he is entirely innocent of collusion with Russia, and even if he had absolutely nothing to do with any wrongdoing by aides such as Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, or Carter Page, he could ultimately destroy his own presidency. Here’s how.
First, as I’ve written before, it’s common for investigators to indict or convict the targets of their investigations for misconduct committed during the investigation, rather than for the alleged crimes that sparked the initial inquiries. Scooter Libby and Martha Stewart are perhaps the two most recent examples. Libby was convicted of obstructing justice and lying to the FBI during the investigation of the “Plame affair” — the leak of Valerie Plame’s CIA identity to the media. No one was ever convicted for the underlying leak. Stewart was found guilty of obstructing an investigation into a stock sale. She was never convicted of actual securities fraud. . . .[French summarizes where Trump is vulnerable in an obstruction of justice charge]
It is entirely possible (perhaps even probable) that an investigation will turn up nothing more or nothing less than a firing out of frustration, not a corrupt desire to block or impede the Flynn investigation or any other ongoing proceeding subject to obstruction laws. But there’s another alternative entirely. Unless he gains a degree of self-discipline, an enraged president could commit an act of obstruction in the future as he tries to block an investigation that’s causing an enormous amount of political and personal stress. In other words, the investigation’s not over until it’s over, and Trump’s risk remains until the investigation ends.
Trump’s most zealous defenders are sure he’s innocent. Yet there exists sufficient evidence to investigate his conduct. Trump’s most zealous foes are sure he’s guilty. Yet there exists insufficient evidence to impeach, much less to prosecute. As the investigation proceeds, the danger is acute. Ask any honest lawyer how much he or she relishes defending a client who has a casual relationship with the truth and who won’t stop talking. Trump’s lack of discipline and his impulsive use of his considerable powers represent ticking time bombs. Only Trump can defuse himself.
Since French wrote this, the word is coming out of Trump’s inner circle that he is considering firing the special prosecutor Robert Mueller. That would go very badly for Trump even if he is innocent of the substantive charges! The White House is denying that the president would fire Mueller, so this may be a moot point. But it’s the kind of thing that Trump must not do if he wants to survive this investigation.
Photo: Di Michael Vadon – Opera propria, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51236080