Has President Trump committed obstruction of justice by requesting that the former FBI Director, James Comey, stop the investigation on General Flynn and by later firing Comey (and admitting it had something to do with the “Trump and Russia” investigations)?
An Impeachable Offense
At Clinton’s impeachment procedures, obstruction of justice was one of the counts against him. Lying under oath about his sexual relationships was considered obstruction of justice –enough to potentially impeach the President.
Nixon was also accused of obstructing justice and, if he had not resigned, he would have been impeached. For Nixon, the obstruction of justice charge was due to withholding evidence, interfering with FBI investigations, and other violations.
For a quick explanation on how impeachment works, read this short post. If the President commits “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” he or she can be impeached. That is what the Constitution says.
Does obstruction of justice count as “other high crimes and misdemeanors”? Yes. If not, the obstruction justice charges wouldn’t have been included in the impeachment procedures against President Clinton and President Nixon.
So what does obstruction of justice entail?
The truth is that the crime of obstruction of justice is defined very broadly. Federal law defines it as someone “corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication…” influencing, intimidating, or impeding an officer, judge, or similar official, from discharging their duties.
In other words, if someone seeks to hamper an investigation by threatening or improperly influencing the judge or public official who is in charge, that person is obstructing justice and violating federal law. The crime is defined in such a broad manner that the law covers almost all inappropriate actions done with the intention to obstruct justice.
Typical obstruction of justice charges happen when a person tampers with evidence, for example. Yet, a specific intent is required. In order to violate the law, it has to be shown that the person did what they did because they intended to obstruct justice (e.g. thwart or stop an investigation against them).
The takeaway of this is that it is in fact possible that President Trump has violated the law and committed the crime of obstructing justice. But we cannot know this for sure until more evidence is discovered. We have to wait until the special counsel concludes with his investigation.
Nonetheless, if it is proven that Trump colluded with Russia during the campaign period, that will count as “treason,” which is a ground for impeachment per our Constitution. And if it is proven that he tried to threaten or pressure Comey to stop the investigation of General Flynn (or any other investigation), then that would fit the definition of “obstruction of justice.”
Let us wait for the evidence to speak by itself.