How Strong is the Obstruction of Justice Case Against Trump?

How Strong is the Obstruction of Justice Case Against Trump? January 29, 2018

Vox has an article that looks at the serious legal case for obstruction of justice that might be levied against Donald Trump by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Unlike the political case for obstruction, which is absolutely obvious, there may not be enough, based on what we know now, for a criminal conviction.

Credit: Antonu
Credit: Antonu

“This is not yet the type of case we’d ordinarily see an [obstruction of justice] indictment come out of,” Laurie Levenson, a former prosecutor and law professor at Loyola University, told me.

Levenson emphasizes that we don’t know the full of extent of what Mueller might have. If we limit ourselves to what’s publicly known, though, she said: “It’s troubling conduct that warrants an investigation. But whether it’s clear enough on its face, I don’t know.”…

Experts who disagree believe that Mueller would likely need much more damning evidence to justify making an obstruction case — through either an indictment or an impeachment referral — against Trump. They tend to make some combination of these three arguments:

1) The uniqueness of the president’s role creates a whole host of legal, constitutional, and political obstacles here.

2) Trump’s allegedly obstructive conduct doesn’t quite match the two presidential precedents we have here. The obstruction of justice impeachment articles Presidents Nixon and Clinton faced accused them of destroying or withholding evidence and telling witnesses to lie under oath.

3) Finally, Trump’s possible motive is more difficult to prove than many are acknowledging with the evidence we have so far. That’s because he can still make the case that rather than acting to cover up crimes, he acted because he genuinely believes the Russia investigation is “fake news” and that he did nothing wrong.

It’s important to remember that a criminal trial is not like a political argument. Crimes have very specific definitions and precedents may modify those definitions or set standards of evidence that would be considered superfluous in a political argument. No reasonable person at this point could possibly doubt that Trump has tried to obstruct the investigation into him, but whether it meets the legal definition is an entirely different question.

But even based on what we know, I think there’s a pretty strong legal case. That’s because obstruction of justice prosecutions depend on establishing a pattern of conduct and that pattern could not be more obvious. Between his public statements, the reporting on what has gone on behind the scenes (which Mueller can easily confirm and probably already has), his actions in firing Comey and demanding that Attorney General Jeff Sessions protect him from the investigations, and the blatantly pretextual and dishonest arguments used to justify firing Comey and almost firing Mueller, I think there’s a pretty strong legal case there. And that’s just what we know. Mueller has a whole lot more than we know.

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