There are three investigations into possible Trump-Russia collusion. Vox summarizes:
• First, the intertwined Justice Department investigation, now led by a special counsel, into the ties between the Trump campaign and Russia and, reportedly, the possible cover-up.
• Second, the investigations led by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, which are broadly looking at Russian intervention in the 2016 election.
• Third, the Senate Judiciary Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have been looking into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s conduct specifically — and have recently expanded their inquiry to the circumstances surrounding former FBI Director James Comey’s firing.
The most potent case against Trump is obstruction of justice. Legal scholars are divided over this issue, but a plausible case can be made for obstruction. ABC News queried a number of legal experts and the interviews yielded mixed results:
What is obstruction of justice?
Obstruction of justice is a federal crime in which someone “corruptly” attempts to “influence, obstruct or impede” the “due and proper administration of the law” in a pending proceeding, as stated in 18 U.S.Code § 1505.
“Corruptly” is defined in an accompanying section, 18 U.S.Code § 1515 (b), as “acting with an improper purpose, personally or by influencing another, including making a false or misleading statement, or withholding, concealing, altering, or destroying a document or other information.”
Liza Goitein, a former trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice who currently co-directs the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, put the statute in simpler terms.
“To boil this down, if the president corruptly attempted to influence the due administration of justice, that is obstruction of justice under the statute,” Goitein told ABC News. “This is an incredibly serious offense.”
If the description of Comey’s memo is accurate, does it detail actions that meet the definition of obstruction of justice?
Some legal experts say “yes.”
“This looks very much like obstruction of justice,” Goitein told ABC News. “It’s hard to reach a different conclusion. It is certainly possible that he incorrectly remembered the conversation or misrepresented it. But there’s no reason to think that’s the case.”
David Shapiro, a former FBI special agent and now an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told ABC News, “It’s hard to view this as anything other than obstruction of justice.”
Laurence Tribe, professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, told ABC News that if Comey’s memo is accurately reported, then he believes it describes “an impeachable attempt to obstruct justice.”
John Lauro, a defense attorney with the Lauro Law Firm based in Tampa and New York City, told ABC News it remains unclear whether Trump obstructed justice.
“It depends on the evidence, which right now amounts to triple and quadruple hearsay,” Lauro said. “If Comey felt there was obstruction he would have been obligated to advise the Attorney General and formally open an investigation, none of which appears to have happened.”
David McIntosh, a lawyer and former congressman who is now the co-founder of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., defended Trump, saying the president “acted appropriately” if he was providing guidance to Comey on the investigation.
“It is important for us to step back and remember that, under the Constitution, the president has the authority and power to enforce the laws,” McIntosh said at a press conference Wednesday morning. “The FBI director reports to the president and it is the president’s decision to delegate authority on investigations. In delegating that authority, presidents have wisely chosen to insulate the FBI from political interference. But the president still has the power and authority to direct the FBI how to do their job.”
The reader should note that this article was written on May 17th, before a major revelation by the New York Times. According to a White House document made available to the New York Times:
President Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had relieved “great pressure” on him, according to a document summarizing the meeting.
“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.”
This is strong evidence that Trump fired Comey because of the Russia investigation. Trump believed he took pressure off himself by firing James Comey.
Here is what 18 U.S.Code § 1505 says:
Whoever, with intent to avoid, evade, prevent, or obstruct compliance, in whole or in part, with any civil investigative demand duly and properly made under the Antitrust Civil Process Act, willfully withholds, misrepresents, removes from any place, conceals, covers up, destroys, mutilates, alters, or by other means falsifies any documentary material, answers to written interrogatories, or oral testimony, which is the subject of such demand; or attempts to do so or solicits another to do so; or
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 and proper administration of the law under which any pending proceeding is being had before any department or agency of the United States, or the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any inquiry or investigation is being had by either House, or any committee of either House or any joint committee of the Congress—
Shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism (as defined in section 2331), imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both.
Here is my charge based on this law:
Charge: Donald Trump is guilty of corruptly forcing (by firing), obstructing, influencing, obstructing, and impeding the due and proper administration of the law under which any pending proceeding is being had before any department or agency (FBI) of the United States.
Donald Trump has broken the law.