Obstruction of Justice and the President

As has been the case each and every week of the disastrous and incompetent Trump administration, there has been a steady trickle of disturbing disclosures this week, which have made it increasingly apparent that Donald Trump has acted in just about every way he knows how to frustrate and subvert the investigation into his campaign’s disturbing ties to Russia.

Last night, in the run-up to James Comey’s highly-anticipated testimony before Congress, it was disclosed that Trump had approached Comey in an attempt to dissuade him from pursuing the investigation against Michael Flynn.  It was also disclosed that Comey had approached Jeff Sessions to ask him not to leave him alone with Trump again (the same request was frequently made in reference to Jerry Sandusky, incidentally).  Finally, it was disclosed that Comey had discussed his concerns about his communications with Trump to three other intelligence officials, all of whom could presumably corroborate Comey’s story.

We already know that Trump fired Comey because he was angry over the Russia probe, because Trump admitted as much himself, after the White House initially tried to float another story suggesting that the firing was at the suggestion of Sessions and Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein.   That promptly fell apart with Trump’s frank admission that he was motivated by the Russia probe.

Trump also had chief of staff Reince Priebus contact top FBI officials, including then-FBI Director James Comey, and asked them to “publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump’s associates and Russians known to US intelligence.” The FBI, citing the ongoing investigation, refused.

It’s also being widely reported that Trump has been literally fuming for months over Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, and has grown increasingly disillusioned with and hostile to Sessions over that issue.  Trump reportedly thinks that it was this decision that paved the way for Rosenstein’s later appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel on the investigation, something that Trump deeply resents.  It is clear that he wanted Sessions to kill the investigation and believed that he would.   Relations between Trump and Sessions are extremely tense, to the extent that Sessions, the first nationally-recognized Republican to hop on board the Trump train, is mulling over the idea of resigning as AG.

One could look at Trump’s actions to try and derail the investigation as being born of ignorance.  Perhaps he simply didn’t understand that his actions were improper, and that it was impermissible for him to attempt to obstruct or derail an ongoing investigation that touched on a matter of national security and national importance.  And if you want to play the devil’s advocate, there’s certainly a lot of evidence to suggest that Trump by and large has no clue what the fuck he’s doing.  He certainly doesn’t understand the intricacies of policy, he doesn’t understand the consequences of his actions much or most of the time (i.e., the diminished standing of the U.S. following the Paris withdrawal decision), and he appears to be almost entirely ignorant of how the government actually works.  Just witness his recent tweet lambasting the DOJ for defending the “watered down” version of his Muslim ban, and suggesting that the department ask the Supreme Court to impose the stricter version.  That was conclusive evidence that he doesn’t realize that (a) he signed the “watered down” version, thereby taking the stricter version off the table, or (b) that the Supreme Court isn’t going to write its own travel ban – it’s only going to look at the constitutionality of the one that the DOJ is trying to still defend.

But that’s giving the man – and I use that term generously – way too much credit.  Every single action I’ve described here, everything that he said or did to try to interfere with an active investigation that touched on him and his associates, he did with the express purpose of calling the dogs off.

In my May 12 posting, I posited that Trump’s actions constitute obstruction of justice, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1505.  In order to successfully show a violation of the statute, the government has to prove that: (1) there was a proceeding pending before a department or agency of the United States; (2) the defendant knew of or had a reasonably founded belief that the proceeding was pending; and (3) the defendant corruptly endeavored to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which the proceeding was pending. United States v. Price, 951 F.2d 1028, 1030-31 (9th Cir. 1991); United States v. Sprecher, 783 F. Supp. 133, 163 (S.D.N.Y. 1992).

Can there be any doubt as to any of this?  The only potential issue is whether Trump “corruptly” endeavored to influence, obstruct or impede the investigation.  We know he certainly endeavored to, but was it corrupt?

Ab. So. Fucking. Lutely.  Remember, Trump cornered Comey alone after asking everyone else in the room to leave.  He knew the request was improper.  He knew he was crossing a line.  He knew he didn’t want anyone else to see or hear what he was about to ask Comey.  Trump is a criminal, pure and simple.  He deserves to be impeached.  But he won’t be by this Congress, because the Republicans simply don’t want to put their own political futures in their districts on the line, so they will continue to place their own political futures over the future of the country in general.

The Republican party has no core, it has no ideology other than tax cuts for the rich (ask Sam Brownback about how well that shit works out), and it has become a home for racism, bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, intolerance and generally anyone who takes pride in being a stone ignorant asshole who thinks the country owes them a debt but doesn’t want to contribute anything toward the greater good.   It’s the party of me, me, me, and the party of fuck everyone else.  It’s a morally bankrupt outlier, and increasingly a tool for agitprop propaganda that questions the very nature of truth and falsity.  And all the party’s elected officials care about is power.

In April of 2012, following the rise of the radical-right Tea Party, political scientist Norm Ornstein, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote that “[t]he GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

That is absolutely correct, and it is naïve to believe that while this party remains in power, they will bring Trump to account for his crime of obstructing justice.  Yet there is still hope.  The steady, calculated drip drip drip of leaks, each bringing new revelations about Trump’s disturbing contacts with Russia and its efforts to influence the election, give hope that there is more, much more, that has yet to be revealed.  And while waiting for the other shoe to drop may be painful and agonizing, it would seem that the noose is steadily tightening.  The Republican cowards offering cover to Trump will be powerless to protect him if it is ultimately revealed that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.  It is only then that they will grow the balls to fulfill their constitutional oversight role, and by then the depth of their cowardice and hypocrisy will be evident to anyone with a brain.

That excludes the 36% of Americans who constitute Trump’s base.  They would go to the bunker with their hero, and history will look upon them with disgust and shame.  Rightfully so.