Trump Clearly Obstructed Justice — Will He Be Held Accountable?
Updated September 19, 2017–10:48 pm ET
On June 8, 2016, former FBI Director James Comey delivered what will be remembered as one the most consequential testimonies in modern history. Major networks interrupted their normal day-time TV to broadcast it live, which has only happened for a handful of congressional hearings (the Watergate hearings being among them). Americans tuned in with one question at the forefront of their minds: Is President Trump guilty of obstruction of justice?
There have been numerous reports since Trump fired Comey that depict a president who was eager to end the investigation into his campaign’s potential collusion with Russia, and from what we got from Comey’s testimony, that appears to be the case. Comey’s prepared opening statement confirmed President Trump’s demand for loyalty in a private dinner, Trump’s request to end the FBI’s investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and that Comey did indeed write detailed memos of all his interactions with Trump.
These details combined with President Trump’s own admission that he had the Trump-Russia investigation in mind when he fired Comey and his comments to Russian officials in the Oval Office further bolstering this admission, has left many thinking the president was trying to halt the FBI’s investigation. Some are going as far as to say there is an obstruction of justice case to be made against Trump. Obstruction of justice was President Richard Nixon’s First Article of Impeachment. These are serious charges, and given the evidence, these charges should be taken seriously.
Since the firing of Comey, Special Counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to take over the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether or not Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russian operatives. Comey’s FBI started the investigation in July 2016 and it has since dramatically expedited. The investigation has expanded in scope to include the repeated contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives, potential coordination between Trump associates and Russia in the dissemination of anti-Clinton fake news and Russian propaganda, and perhaps most importantly, the investigation has expanded to include potential financial crimes committed by Donald Trump and some of his associates, who have been widely accused of money laundering for Russian oligarchs.
Last but not least, Mueller is probing potential obstruction of justice on the part of President Trump. Just this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Mueller has interviewed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about Comey’s firing…
Needless to say, the stakes are high for Donald Trump.
Let’s dive into the facts, and see how likely it is that the President of the United States endeavored to obstruct justice.
Exactly How The Comey Firing Went Down
Tuesday, May 9 2017. A day that will live in buffoonery. Former FBI Director James Comey was speaking to FBI employees in LA when news reports began coming across the TV screens behind him with the headline “Trump Fires Comey.” Comey reportedly laughed it off, thinking he was being pranked…He wasn’t.
Just like that, President Trump had fired the man leading the federal investigation into his campaign’s potential collusion with Russia. Trump sent a letter to Comey which stated the firing was based on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions (who is supposed to be recused from the Trump-Russia investigation) and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Also, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s recommendation was released and it was apparently based on the assertion that Comey treated Hillary Clinton unfairly during the course of his investigation into her private email server. The White House claimed that the firing was a result of Trump gradually losing faith and trust in Comey’s ability to carry out his duties, and that it was triggered by Rosenstein’s recommendation. This was unbelievable to many for good reason…It turns out it was all a lie.
Thanks to some great reporting, an increase of leaks from federal employees, and now Comey’s own opening statement a clearer picture of what occurred has come together:
Comey briefs Trump on the Christopher Steele dossier and assures Trump he personally isn’t under investigation (but his campaign is). Comey began what would be a reoccurring habit of writing detailed memos of his interactions with Trump and later began reporting them to FBI leadership.
The day after former acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House about Michael Flynn, Trump asked for Comey’s loyalty. Comey declined, saying he could only give him his honesty.
“I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” — President Trump
After a scheduled counter-terrorism briefing in the Oval Office, President Trump asked everyone to leave (including Jeff Sessions and Jared Kushner) so he could speak to Comey alone. Trump then asked Comey if he could end the FBI’s investigation into Michael Flynn.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” — President Trump
This was the day after Michael Flynn resigned as national security adviser after lying about his sanctions-related conversations with Russian Ambassador Kislyak. Comey asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “prevent any future direct communication between the President” and himself. Sessions didn’t respond.
President Trump calls Comey at the FBI and went on about a “cloud” the investigation is putting over his administration and asked what could be done to “lift the cloud.” Comey said he was investigating as quickly as he could. Trump repeatedly asked Comey to get the word out that Trump himself was not under FBI investigation.
President Trump called Comey, again referring to the Trump-Russia investigation as a “cloud” over his administration. Trump then asked Comey what he had done about his request to get word out that he himself was not under investigation. Comey said he reached out to Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein and hadn’t heard back. Trump said he would reach out himself. This was the last conversation between Trump and Comey.
At Least Three Weeks Before His Firing
Comey reportedly began getting daily updates on the Trump-Russia investigation and became concerned by “information showing potential evidence of collusion.”
The Tuesday Before His Firing
Comey reportedly asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for significantly more resources for the Trump-Russia investigation. This was when the administration began “working to come up with reasons” to fire Comey.
The Day Before His Firing
In a meeting with Sessions and Rosenstein, Trump asked for Rosenstein to put a recommendation into writing after scrapping a previously written letter by Trump and his senior advisor Stephen Miller which was described as a “rant” outlining a more accurate picture of Trump’s reasoning.
The Day Of His Firing
Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.
Comparisons to the “Saturday Night Massacre” erupted from the public, as people began to compare this firing to President Richard Nixon’s firing of Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox after he refused to drop the subpoena for the now infamous Nixon Tapes. Although this current circumstance is far more dangerous given the fact that a foreign entity was involved, the intent to obstruct an investigation is one in the same.
This move came as a “punch in the gut” to the FBI, leaving many in the bureau and the Department of Justice angry. Despite what then Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said after the firing about how the folks in the FBI had lost faith in Comey, he was very much beloved. One can argue this loyalty is what led to the flurry of leaks in the coming weeks that put more puzzle pieces in place. A puzzle that depicts obstruction of justice.
The Case For Obstruction Of Justice
Obstruction of Justice: “whoever . . . . corruptly or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice, shall be (guilty of an offense).”
In order to be guilty of obstruction of justice, one doesn’t have to successfully obstruct an investigation. The law clearly states that anyone who “endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice, shall be (guilty of an offense).” Comey’s opening statement showed a detailed report of a president making multiple attempts to influence an investigation that is targeting his campaign.
Comey's statement establishes obstruction of justice by Trump. Period.
“In prepared testimony released on the eve of his appearance Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, former FBI director James B. Comey placed President Trump in the gunsights of a federal criminal investigation, laying out evidence sufficient for a case of obstruction of justice.” — Philip Allen Lacovara, former U.S. deputy solicitor general in the Justice Department, served as counsel to Watergate special prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski
It’s not just Comey’s account of events that scream obstruction. Trump’s own words do him in.
The day after firing the FBI Director investigating his campaign’s ties to Russia, President Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office. In that meeting, not only did he boast about highly classified intelligence, revealing the location of an Israeli-provided intelligence source critical to the fight against ISIS, Trump appeared to give confirmation that he fired James Comey in an attempt to end the Trump-Russia investigation. The New York Times reported:
“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Mr. Trump added, “I’m not under investigation.”
Later that same week, President Trump made a public admission that he fired Comey because of the Trump-Russia investigation. See for yourself.
WATCH: Pres. Trump speaks out about firing of James Comey; admits Russia investigation was on his mind: https://t.co/RgRITHU7MH – @jonkarl https://t.co/4uczVIGfEM
The Washington Post also reported that in March, “President Trump asked him (Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats) if he could intervene with then-FBI Director James B. Comey to get the bureau to back off its focus on former national security adviser Michael Flynn in its Russia probe.”
The evidence appears to be there. With Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation moving full speed ahead and examining the circumstances surrounding James Comey’s firing, President Trump should be very nervous.
The President has limited immunity while in office but once removed (impeached) he’s then susceptible to charges, unless he had already pardoned himself. So even if Mueller found sufficient evidence to indict Trump, he’d have to be impeached first. Given President Trump’s waning political capital and record low approval rating, it’s growing less likely that Republican representatives will protect him if Mueller finds criminal activity. That being the case, only one question remains: If there is a clear case to be made for obstruction of justice and a compelling case to be made for impeachment, will House Republicans do anything about it?