DID THE DONALD BREAK THE LAW?
He allegedly asked fired FBI boss to quit probing ex-national security adviser
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