“Obstruction of justice” is a vague term. We’re probably used to seeing it in T.V. shows or movies where people tamper with evidence or kill a witness. However, it’s a little broader than that. Sections 1503, 1505 and 1512 of Title 18 have language making it a crime if someone “obstructs, influences or impedes any official proceeding.”
So let’s ask ourselves the million-dollar question. Did President Trump obstruct justice by asking Former Director of the FBI James Comey to drop the investigation?
According to an article recently published by the New York Times, it’s definitely possible, as those statutes were crafted in a broad manner for a reason. The argument could be made that Comey was fired due his resilience in the face of Donald Trump’s “request” to drop the investigation (though the White House vehemently denies it). However, did Trump even have the authority under law to fire Comey? Theoretically, yes. However, previous court rulings have proved that “lawful acts” can be counted as “obstruction of justice” if done so with mal-intent or corrupt intentions, such as firing the Director of the FBI because he refused to stop investigating you.
A pattern which emerges in obstruction of justice cases is whether prosecutors can prove the defendants mental state during the time they committed the act. It’s simply not enough for the defendant to know that their act may impede an investigation; rather, the obstruction would have to be their sole reason for acting. As you can see, the facts get kind of fuzzy here.
According to Samuel Buell, a former Justice Department prosecutor and Duke Law professor, the simple firing of Former Director Comey without much context speaks very little to the mental instability of the President. However, add in the context provided by Mr. Comey’s memo detailing the President asking him to drop the investigation, and the evidence starts to pile up.
Could we see charges brought against President Trump? Even though Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself of the investigation and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein is overseeing it currently, because it is a Justice Department under the Trump Administration, we may never see charges brought against him. Our only hope lies with an independent prosecutor, who can collate the various leaks and possible treasonous acts of the White House and present to congress for a potential indictment or impeachment.
Would there ever be grounds for impeachment? To put it into perspective, the only two Presidents subjected to impeachment related proceedings were also accused of obstruction of justice. When impeachment is being discussed, it’s never just about the lawful or unlawful actions of the defendant — it’s also a political process that 2/3 of the senate and a majority of the house must come together to decide. This then becomes politicking and not necessarily “justice under the law.”
Congress took an oath to uphold the constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. There is currently an enemy in the White House, commanding executive power, running unchecked. Hopefully the Republicans in Congress will find their spines before it’s too late.