Donald Trump and surrogates are trying to convince everyone that Donald Trump has nothing to worry about when he is interviewed by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. The issue of whether there was Russian collusion or not is irrelevant at this point. The issue facing Donald Trump is whether he attempted to obstruct justice or whether he lied or will lie under oath to questions related to Mueller’s probe. It is important to remember that obstruction of justice charges is independent to whether there was Russian collusion, or not. The key to a possible obstruction charge is Michael Flynn, or if Donald Trump is untruthful in testimony under oath. If Trump lies under oath, then there would be no argument.
Obstruction of justice is basically impeding the investigation of a crime. It can be as simple as tripping a police officer who is chasing a suspect or as complex as hiding or destroying evidence. In between, anyone that attempts to stop a criminal investigation or provides misleading information to investigators would also fall under an obstruction charge. Additionally, obstruction of justice criminalizes any attempt to “influence” a criminal investigation.
This is where Donald Trump is in jeopardy under an obstruction charge.
The most obvious example of an attempt by Donald Trump to obstruct a criminal investigation is his attempt to ask James Comey, then the FBI director, to drop the investigation of Michael Flynn. Trump vouched for Flynn while having dinner with Comey and then, ultimately, fired James Comey. Demanding Comey’s “loyalty” while discussing Comey’s future as the FBI director is as simple as a quid pro quo of allowing Comey to keep his FBI job in return for dropping the investigation into Flynn.
The timeline clearly demonstrates Donald Trump’s attempts at obstructing the criminal investigation into Michael Flynn.
On January 27, 2017, demands Comey’s “loyalty” while discussing the FBI job in a private dinner between Comey and Trump.
On February 14, 2017, Donald Trump told Comey to stop the investigation into Michael Flynn, saying that Flynn “is a good guy, I hope you can let it go.”
Unable to convince James Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn, Trump asked Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence to drop the investigation into Flynn. Coats and CIA director Mike Pompeo were the only two individuals with Trump on March 220, 2017 when this conversation happened.
On May 9, 2017, Donald Trump fired James Comey in a highly controversial manner and under confused circumstances.
Clearly, Donald Trump’s actions, in regards, to Comey, demonstrates a pattern that suggests an attempt to obstruct the investigation into Michael Flynn.
On December 1, 2017, Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to FBI investigators. As part of his plea agreement, Flynn has agreed to cooperate with Robert Mueller’s investigation.
It is important to understand that an obstruction of justice charge does not require that the obstruction of justice be successful, just that the attempt was made. It is also important to note that Flynn must cooperate with Mueller’s team for a better outcome during his sentencing and to further insulate his son from prosecution. The more satisfied Robert Mueller is with Flynn’s cooperation, the better sentence Flynn is likely to receive.
There will be a tendency for the Donald Trump supporters to argue that there was no Russian conspiracy and thus all is moot. The issue is not Russia, but the fact that Michael Flynn pleaded guilty and that Trump asked that the investigation into Flynn be dropped.
The other argument that might be tendered is the issue of whether Donald Trump can be indicted or removed from office remains unsettled. That does not matter at this point because we first need to get to the point of whether an obstruction of justice charge can be made against Trump. Mueller is the only one in position to do so, at the moment. Once we’ve crossed that Rubicon, we can move on to the next.