The Mueller Report: Obstruction of Justice

After Attorney General Jeff Sessions notified the President that Robert Mueller had been appointed as Special Counsel, Trump responded in pearl-clutching fashion: “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked.” I’m certain there is another timeline where Trump is only President in a Tommy Wiseau movie.

After reading The Mueller Report, I was convinced of two things: 1) as President, Donald Trump committed multiple acts of obstruction of justice and 2) that Congress should open an impeachment inquiry.

Crack open a cold one as I take at look at four instances when the leader of our nation obstructed justice!

Bob Mueller

Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

Let’s knock this out right away: Did Robert Mueller have conflicts of interests, preventing him from carrying out an impartial investigation as Trump claims?
No. Trump has publicly (and privately) claimed that Mueller is “conflicted.” The President cites three examples:

  1. After Comey’s firing but before being appointed Special Counsel, Mueller Interviewed for the FBI Director position.
  2. Mueller had worked for a law firm that previously represented people “affiliated” w/POTUS.
  3. Mueller disputed fees from a Trump golf course. 

All 3 are bullshit (Trump’s own senior advisors found them to be “ridiculous”).

The White House did invite Mueller to meet with POTUS to “offer a perspective” on the FBI. In the report, Steve Bannon further elaborated to investigators: “Bannon said that, although the White House thought about beseeching Mueller to become Director again, he did not come in looking for the job.”

In regards to Mueller’s previous history with the law firm, ethics officials with the DOJ determined Mueller’s work for the firm did not “bar his service” as Special Counsel. 

In 2011, Mueller withdrew his family’s membership from a Trump-owned golf club in Sterling, Virginia. According to a letter Mueller sent to the club, his family was “unable to make full use of the Club.” Mueller went on to request whether or not he was “entitled to a refund of a portion of our initial membership fee.”  The controller of the club accepted Mueller’s withdrawal and placed him on a “waitlist to be refunded.”

Does the report clear Trump of Obstruction?
NO. Mueller writes: “…if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgement.”

In fact, the Mueller report indicates that Donald Trump DID obstruct justice on multiple occasions. 

Wait, you just said Trump committed obstruction. Why didn’t the Special Counsel indict Trump?
It can’t. The investigation “determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment” based on an Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo that prohibits the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President. According to the memo, such actions would “impermissibly undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions.”

This is also important because prior to the report’s release, Attorney General William Barr claimed that Mueller DID NOT reference the OLC memo when it came to his decision of not indicting Trump for obstruction.

If Mueller’s hands are tied, who can act on the information from the report?
Congress. Mueller writes:

“With respect to whether the President can be found to have obstructed justice by exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution, we concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.”

If Congress does not act, can Trump be prosecuted after he leaves office?
Yes. The Special Counsel found that “a President does not have immunity after he leaves office.”

Didn’t Trump cooperate with the investigation?
Not really. Trump refused to do an in-person interview. In accommodating the President, the Special Counsel accepted written answers. Although Trump provided answers on “certain Russia-related topics,” he refused “to provide written answers to questions on obstruction topics or questions on events during the transition.”

Even if he had answered questions about obstruction, it likely wouldn’t have helped. The Special Counsel found Trump’s written responses to be “inadequate.”

Arms folded

Credit: Kevin Lamarque/ Reuters

Why didn’t Mueller subpoena Trump?
If Mueller subpoenaed Trump’s testimony, he believed it would lead to a “lengthy constitutional litigation.” Mueller ultimately felt the team already had collected enough information to “draw relevant factual conclusions on intent and credibility.”

Without an underlying crime (i.e., conspiracy with Russia), can Trump still obstruct justice?
Yes. From the report: “Obstruction of justice can be motivated by a desire to protect non-criminal personal interests, to protect against investigations where underlying criminal liability falls into a gray area, or to avoid personal embarrassment.”

If Trump didn’t conspire with Russia, why obstruct the investigation?
According to multiple advisors, Trump viewed anything tied to Russia (including investigations and the intel community assessment) as “a threat to the legitimacy of his electoral victory.”

Obstruction Act 1: Letting Flynn Go
On February 14, 2017, the day after Michael Flynn resigned, a Homeland Security briefing (with multiple administration officials, including AG Jeff Sessions) took place in the Oval Office. After the briefing, Trump dismissed the room and asked FBI Director James Comey to stay. With the room cleared, Trump told Comey of Flynn and the FBI investigation: “I hope you can see your way to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

According to the Mueller report, Jeff Sessions described Comey’s account leading up to the private meeting as “pretty accurate.”

Hours before his private meeting with Comey, Trump had lunch with Chris Christie. Trump told Christie, “Now that we fired Flynn, the Russia thing is over.” Christie disputed this and explained that Trump wouldn’t be able to get rid of Flynn that easily. According to Christie, he told the President that the investigation would continue and that Flynn would be “like gum on the bottom of your shoe.”

In determining if this was an obstructive act, Mueller writes, “a threshold question is whether Comey’s account of the interaction is accurate” and if that were found to be the case, did Trump’s statements “impede the administration of justice by shutting down an inquiry that could result in a grand jury investigation and a criminal charge.”

The investigation determined that “substantial evidence corroborates Comey’s account.” 

Due to the “circumstances of the conversation,” Mueller also concluded that Trump’s “hope” for Comey to “let Flynn go” was the President’s way of asking Comey to close the FBI investigation into Flynn.

Obstruction Act 2: Firing of James Comey
On May 3, 2017, FBI Director James Comey confirmed the existence of the FBI’s Russia investigation before the Senate Judiciary Committee. What he didn’t do was state that Donald Trump was not under investigation. You can guess who that pissed off.

Comey

Credit: Shawn Thew/EFE

During a May 5th dinner, the President told attending advisors (including Jared Kushner and Indiana Jones villain, Stephen Miller) that he wanted to fire Comey. On May 9th, he did it.

On May 10, Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office. According to reports, Trump told the Russians about the firing of Comey: “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off… I’m not under investigation.” The White House never denied the statements.

During his NBC interview on May 11, Trump told Lester Holt about Comey’s firing: “And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself – I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”

“…the President had a motive to put the FBI’s Russia investigation behind him,” the report reads.

Mueller found that a full FBI investigation into Russia would “uncover facts about the campaign and the President personally that the President could have understood to be crimes or that would give rise to personal and political concerns.” Mueller specifically cites the Trump Tower Moscow dealings, which occurred through June 2016, contradicting Trump’s claims that he had no dealings with Russia during the campaign.

Mueller also found the firing of Comey to be an act of obstruction if it had “the potential to discourage a successor director or other law enforcement officials in their conduct of the Russia investigation.”

In the days following Comey’s firing, Mueller makes note of Trump referring to Comey as a “showboat,” claiming the FBI was “in turmoil” and this tweet:

Mueller writes: “Those actions had the potential to affect a successor director’s conduct of the investigation.”

Well, at least Trump didn’t order the removal of the Special Counsel. 

Obstruction Act 3: Removal of Special Counsel
On Saturday, June 17, 2017, Trump called White House Counsel Don McGahn at home and ordered him to call Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and have him fire the Special Counsel. On the first call, Trump told McGahn: “You gotta do this. You gotta call Rod.”  Trump cited Mueller’s (debunked) conflicts of interest as reasoning for the firing. McGahn did not act on it.

On the second call, Trump said: “Mueller has to go. Call me back when you do it.”

To get off the phone, McGhan let the President believe that he would call Rosenstein. Instead, he decided to resign. McGhan called his Chief of Staff and informed her of his decision and went to the office to pack his things.

That same night, McGhan ran into Priebus and Bannon. Although he didn’t share the details of his calls with Trump, McGhan told them that was he going to resign. Priebus recalls McGhan telling him that POTUS asked him to “do crazy shit.” Priebus and Bannon urged him not to quit. McGhan decided to return to work on Monday.

In January 2018, the New York Times broke the story that Trump ordered McGhan to fire the Special Counsel. Trump denied the story and “privately told McGhan the he had simply wanted McGhan to bring conflicts of interest to the DOJ’s attention.”

Trump’s personal counsel called McGhan’s attorney and said that the President wanted him to release a statement denying the Times’ story. McGhan refused.

Mueller found McGhan to be a “credible witness with no motive to lie.” The President’s claim that he was calling to simply discuss bringing Mueller’s conflicts of interest to the DOJ didn’t make sense. Days before the call(s), the President’s counsel had discussed that very issue with the DOJ.  The Special Counsel found that Trump “was not just seeking an examination of whether conflicts existed but instead was looking to use asserted conflicts as a way to terminate the Special Counsel.”

Three days before Trump called for Mueller’s removal, news agencies began reporting that the President himself was under investigation for obstruction of justice. According to the report, the evidence shows that Trump’s reasoning for firing the Special Counsel was “linked to the Special Counsel’s oversight of investigations that involved the President’s conduct.”

Donald Trump is truly his own worst enemy.

OBSTRUCTION ACT 4: LIMIT SCOPE OF SPECIAL COUNSEL
Two days after ordering McGhan to call Rosenstein, Trump met with Corey Lewandowski alone in the Oval Office. He asked Lewandowski to deliver a message to then Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The message dictated to limit the scope of the Special Counsel investigation to “future election interference only.” Man, this guy is THIRSTY.

Lewandowski’s meeting with Sessions fell through and wasn’t rescheduled before meeting with Trump again, one month later. During the follow-up meeting, the President asked about the message and Lewandowski assured him that it would be delivered. Trump said that if Sessions would not meet with him, then Lewandowski was to tell Sessions that he was fired. If you can’t trust Corey Lewandowski to undermine our nation’s rule of law, who can you trust?

Lewandowski passed the note off like a hot potato (Jesus, Corey) to Deputy Chief of Staff Rick Dearborn to give to Sessions. Dearborn “recalled not wanting to ask where it came from or think further about doing anything with it.” He didn’t.

Mueller writes that Trump’s action ordering Sessions to limit the scope “was intended to prevent further investigative scrutiny of the President’s and his campaign’s conduct.”

During his press conference on May 29, 2019, Robert Mueller told the nation: “When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.”

It is crucial that Donald Trump be held accountable for his crime(s).

angry trump

Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

As with my first piece discussing Volume One of the Mueller report (which you can read here), I hope this inspires you to read the full report for yourself (which you can find right here).

Robert Mueller is currently scheduled to testify before Congress on July 24th, which Mueller commented on a potential Congressional appearance in May: “There has been discussion about an appearance before Congress. Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report.”

That is damning enough.

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