[T]he Mueller report is an unmistakable act of deference to Congress’s primary jurisdiction over accountability for the president. The House Judiciary Committee must now pick up where Mr. Mueller left off and begin holding proceedings to determine whether Mr. Trump abused the powers of his office.
The report details egregious evidence of obstruction, emphasizing the pattern of conduct that the president took after James Comey, then the F.B.I. director, confirmed the bureau’s investigation into possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Much of the most alarming conduct is well known: The president pressured officials, including Mr. Comey, to clear him publicly; he fired Mr. Comey because of his unwillingness to publicly state that the president was not under investigation, possibly to protect himself from an investigation into his campaign; he engaged in efforts to curtail the special counsel investigation, including by having his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski deliver a demand to Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he, too, publicly clear Mr. Trump and curtail the scope of the Russia investigation; he directed aides to withhold emails and drafted a misleading public statement for his son Donald Trump Jr. about the June 2016 meeting with several Russians at Trump Tower; he ordered the White House counsel, Don McGahn, to deny that he tried to fire the special counsel; and through his lawyers he appears to have floated the possibility of pardons for Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and Michael Cohen, three Trump associates who were charged by the special counsel.
Mr. Mueller also corroborates Mr. Comey’s accounts of two interactions with Mr. Trump, including the infamous Oval Office meeting where Mr. Trump asked him to “let Flynn go.” He emphasizes that the “way in which the president communicated the request to Comey” is critical in understanding Mr. Trump’s potentially corrupt intent. As the report emphasizes, “it is important to view the president’s pattern of conduct as a whole” — including the ways in which the president “used his unique ability” to influence others by attacking the investigation or potential witnesses via mass communications.
Crucially, the report explicitly rejects many of the most prominent defenses of the president that have been articulated by the president’s lawyers and Attorney General Barr. [Continue reading…]
The federal crime of obstruction has three elements: an obstructive act, some kind of nexus between the obstructive act and an official proceeding, and corrupt intent. The “official proceeding” does not have to exist yet—it can be “pending or contemplated”—and the “nexus” need only be “a relationship in time, causation, or logic.” Mueller’s report runs through various actions by the president that arguably meet this definition, and it analyzes each one in light of the elements of obstruction. He concluded that five acts supported a reasonable inference of obstruction of justice. [Continue reading…]