Evidence Mounts That Trump Attempted to Obstruct Justice In Russia Probe

Posted May 24, 2017

MP3 Interview with Marjorie Cohn, past president of the National Lawyers Guild and legal scholar, conducted by Scott Harris

obstruction

As Donald Trump embarked on his first overseas trip as president, new bombshell revelations deepened his administration’s escalating crisis. While some Republican legislators welcomed the news that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate charges of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia’s attempt to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a hoped-for period of calm never arrived.

The Washington Post reported on May 22 that President Trump had asked Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and Admiral Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of coordination between Trump’s campaign and Moscow during the 2016 election. This news, on top of earlier revelations that President Trump had urged former FBI Director James Comey to pledge his loyalty and to end his investigation of Trump’s fired National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, confirms a pattern of behavior consistent with a president attempting to obstruct justice.

Evidence of an apparent White House cover-up was amplified in an earlier New York Times story that reported Trump had told Russian officials in a May 10 Oval Office meeting that his dismissal of FBI Director James Comey had relieved “great pressure” on him, describing Comey as, “crazy, a real nut job.” Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Marjorie Cohn, past president of the National Lawyers Guild and legal scholar, who examines the mounting evidence indicating that Trump may be guilty of obstructing justice, an impeachable offense. [Rush transcript.]

MARJORIE COHN: By appointing Mueller, Rosenstein has given political cover to the Republicans, many of whom are very upset about what's happening with Trump but are worried that if they distance themselves from him too much, that might impact their chances in the midterm elections in 2018. The problem is that Robert Mueller can be fired by Rosenstein if Trump orders Rosenstein to fire him, because he serves at the pleasure of the executive branch because we don't have the independent counsel statute where three judges appointed the special counsel. So, the charge that Mueller has is to investigate any links between the Russian government and the campaign of Donald Trump and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation. And that includes an alleged cover-up.

So at this point, there is circumstantial evidence of improper conduct between members of the Trump administration and Russian operatives during the presidential campaign. But we have seen no concrete proof of criminal conduct. But the evidence of a coverup continues to mount. Trump has admitted that the Russian investigation motivated him to fire FBI Director James Comey. Trump asked Comey to end the investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Trump made veiled threats to Comey about possible tapes of their conversations. Trump demanded that Comey pledge loyalty to him, but Comey refused and Trump defensively fixated on Comey, telling him three times that Trump was not an object of the investigation.

Now two more possible indications of coverup came out, turns out in March Trump asked the director of national intelligence Coats, and the director of the National Security Agency Rogers to deny any collusion between Russia and the Trump administration. And both refused. So these two developments also add to the case for obstruction of justice. And obstruction of justice basically requires that a person corruptly or by use of threats obstructs, impedes, or endeavors to influence a congressional investigation, a criminal investigation, an investigation by a department or agency of the U.S. or a federal court proceeding. But in order to be found guilty of obstruction of justice, a person has to act with an improper purpose. That's the "corruptly" part of the statute. And before Trump asked Comey to drop the investigation of Flynn, he was in the Oval Office. The two of them were in the Oval Office with vice president Pence and Attorney General Sessions and Trump asked Pence and Sessions to step out of the Oval Office before Trump asked Comey to drop the investigation of Flynn. That could be evidence of an improper purpose.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Many comparisons to Watergate have been made with the recent revelations about Trump's alleged obstruction of justice and a lot of the other scandals plaguing his administration. But certainly, a big difference is that we have a one-party state now. Both houses of Congress are run Republicans – the party of Trump – as is the Supreme Court. They have a working majority on the Supreme Court now, the Republicans do. So, if the Republican House of Representatives doesn't initiate impeachment proceedings and the country at large feels strongly that that should be the course of action, what is the recourse of citizens? Militant protest? Are we talking about a constitutional crisis? Republicans refuse to follow the Constitution and initiate proceedings to prosecute high crimes and misdemeanors.

MARJORIE COHN: Well, I think that the same way that constituents of Republican congresspersons pack their offices, pack their town halls, protested - will be done if Congress does not do what people think it should do. And again, in 2018, these congresspeople are up for re-election and they're going to have to answer to their constituents. So, even though, yes, the House is controlled by the Republicans, that does not mean necessarily that they're not going to react to demands from their constituents to pursue this just because they control the House. Now I don't know that he would actually – even if was impeached in the House of Representatives – that he would actually be convicted in the Senate by two-thirds. It's more of a long shot. But there are some Senate seats as well – or up for grabs, I should say, as well in 2018.

We don't know what's going to happen. And Trump is going to fight it tooth and nail if he doesn't melt down before. It's very, very hard to predict what's going to happen, but it's I guess you could say it's as frightening as it is fascinating.

For more information, visit Marjorie Cohn's website at marjoriecohn.com.

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