Stuff to Read About Obstruction of Justice

Whether a direct link between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin is ever proved decisively may not matter. All the smart legal expert guys think Mueller must be building a slam-dunk obstruction of justice case.

Renato Mariotti, The Hill, “It’s Now Likely Mueller Thinks Trump Obstructed Justice.”

Thursday’s explosive New York Times story that President Donald Trump ordered the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller last June renewed the public’s focus on the obstruction of justice investigation against Trump, which will soon culminate in Trump’s interview by Mueller. The case against Trump has grown stronger in recent months, and it now appears likely that Mueller will conclude that Trump obstructed justice.

Adam Serwer, The Atlantic, “How Trump Built an Obstruction of Justice Case Against Himself.”

Obstruction of justice is a crime that depends on a person’s state of mind, and so is difficult for prosecutors to prove. The law on whether a sitting president can be prosecuted, as opposed to impeached and removed from office by Congress, is unsettled. But legal experts say that Trump’s pattern of behavior has made the case against him much stronger, because that pattern shows Trump repeatedly attempting to undercut the investigations into Russian interference and obstruction, and then in some cases misleading the public about it. That Trump was unsuccessful in firing Mueller is irrelevant—obstruction is a crime whether or not the attempt succeeds.

Aaron Blake, Washington Post, “Did Trump just admit that he tried to impede the Russia investigation?

When asked whether he’s concerned about Mueller’s fairness in investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, Trump explained that there was no collusion and no obstruction of justice. And then he extrapolated on the obstruction part in a highly questionable way.

“Here’s what we’ll say and everybody says: No collusion. There’s no collusion. Now they’re saying, ‘Oh, well, did he fight back?’ ” Trump said.

After some cross-talk, Trump finished his thought to ABC News’s Jon Karl: “You fight back. Jon — you fight back. ‘Oh, it’s obstruction.’ ”

Trump’s meaning seems to be clear: What people see as obstruction of justice is, to him, just fighting back. And that fits with his brand as a fighter and a counterpuncher and all that.

But there’s one major problem with that: The actions at-issue here aren’t supposed to be aimed at fighting back against the investigation. The argument Trump’s lawyers are likely to make is that Trump did things like firing FBI Director James B. Comey for reasons unrelated to the Russia probe.

Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post, “Trump’s inability to understand ‘obstruction of justice’ may be his downfall.”

The normal problem in these cases is proving whether an accused obstructionist had “corrupt” intent. That is, did he interfere with an investigation to protect himself or further his own interests. Here, Trump is shouting his corrupt intent — though he has no idea it’s corrupt — from the rooftops. He’s not at all embarrassed to admit he tried to strong-arm the FBI and shut down Comey. In fact, he believes he was entitled to do these things.

Chris Strohm and Shannon Pettypiece, Bloomberg, “Mueller Almost Done With Obstruction Part of Trump Probe, Sources Say.”

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is moving at a far faster pace than previously known and appears to be wrapping up at least one key part of his investigation — whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Mueller has quietly moved closer to those around Trump by interviewing Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former FBI Director James Comey in recent weeks, officials said. His team has also interviewed CIA Director Mike Pompeo, NBC News reported.

Those high-level officials all have some degree of knowledge about events surrounding Trump’s decisions to fire Comey and Michael Flynn, his first national security adviser.

“Clearly the names that are coming out now indicate that we’re into the obstruction of justice side of it,” said Stanley Twardy, a former U.S. attorney for Connecticut who’s now a white-collar criminal defense lawyer at the law firm Day Pitney LLP. “He’s now getting people who are closest to the president, closest to the issues.”

Harry Litman, Los Angeles Times, “Sweet words we may soon hear: ‘Mr. President, you are a target for obstruction of justice charges‘.”

That’s where the path of this investigation directly points: Mueller has spoken to all the crucial witnesses except Trump, and has the full account from the two principals, namely Comey and Flynn.

That “target” statement would demolish Trump’s public stance, and completely alter the stakes for an interview.

Stay tuned.