DID THE DON­ALD BREAK THE LAW?

He al­legedly asked fired FBI boss to quit prob­ing ex-na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser

New Straits Times - - World -

WASHINGTON

SOME law­mak­ers are ac­cus­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump of ob­struc­tion of jus­tice af­ter rev­e­la­tions that Fed­eral Bu­reau of Investigation di­rec­tor James Comey wrote a pri­vate ac­count of the pres­i­dent ask­ing him to shut down an investigation into for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn.

Con­gres­sional Democrats were con­cerned that Trump was try­ing to sti­fle a probe into pos­si­ble co­or­di­na­tion be­tween his cam­paign and Rus­sia’s elec­tion med­dling by fir­ing Comey last week. The lat­est de­vel­op­ment only height­ened their out­rage, re­new­ing calls for a spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor.

But ob­struc­tion of jus­tice is a tricky is­sue both crim­i­nally and po­lit­i­cally. And le­gal ex­perts say it could be dif­fi­cult to prove the pres­i­dent crossed a line.

WHAT IS OB­STRUC­TION OF JUS­TICE?

Sim­ply put, it’s pre­vent­ing au­thor­i­ties — such as po­lice or pros­e­cu­tors — from in­ves­ti­gat­ing and ap­ply­ing the law. WHAT IS TRUMP AC­CUSED OF?

Comey wrote that Trump asked him to end an investigation into Flynn dur­ing a Fe­bru­ary meet­ing in the Oval Of­fice.

Comey, who was known to keep a paper trail of sen­si­tive meet­ings, chron­i­cled the pres­i­dent’s re­quest in a memo he pro­duced soon af­ter the con­ver­sa­tion.

The White House dis­puted the ac­count.

IS IT OB­STRUC­TION OF JUS­TICE?

Crim­i­nally speak­ing, ob­struct­ing jus­tice ap­plies to var­i­ous sce­nar­ios, like threat­en­ing a ju­ror, re­tal­i­at­ing against a wit­ness, or im­ped­ing a grand jury pro­ceed­ing — and Trump’s al­leged re­quest would not fit neatly into any of them, le­gal ex­perts said.

To bring an ob­struc­tion charge, a pros­e­cu­tor would have to show the pres­i­dent was try­ing to “cor­ruptly” in­flu­ence the investigation, and prov­ing an im­proper in­tent can be hard.

Jonathan Tur­ley, a law pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge Washington Univer­sity, said Trump would have some lines of de­fence.

“The pres­i­dent can claim he was rais­ing an is­sue of con­cern for a long­time as­so­ciate. That doesn’t mean that the ques­tion was not wildly im­proper, and frankly, would bor­der on the mo­ronic.” BUT ISN’T THERE EV­I­DENCE?

Comey’s memos could be valu­able in in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

“What you have is con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous doc­u­men­ta­tion of Comey’s rec­ol­lec­tion of what the pres­i­dent said,” said Bob Bauer, who served as White House coun­sel un­der Barack Obama.

“That’s ob­vi­ously a very pow­er­ful piece of ev­i­dence.”

But bar­ring record­ings, a memo still be­comes a case of “he said, she said”, said for­mer pros­e­cu­tor Jonathan Lopez.

Still, there’s a wit­ness: Comey.

“He’s around and the best ev­i­dence of what hap­pened in that meet­ing would be to call him as a wit­ness,” said Bar­bara McQuade, for­mer US at­tor­ney for the East­ern Dis­trict of Michi­gan.

ARE THERE OTHER CON­SE­QUENCES?

Even if this didn’t lead to a crim­i­nal con­vic­tion, such a re­quest could add to the ba­sis for im­peach­ment.

But Tur­ley said that may not be enough.

“What we have is a memo of a pres­i­dent ask­ing highly in­ap­pro­pri­ate ques­tions of an FBI di­rec­tor. This would be pretty thin soup for even an im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ing.” AP

Don­ald Trump

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