Former FBI Director testimony is key: Was there obstruction of justice?

Former FBI Director testimony is key: Was there obstruction of justice?

Jun 7, 2017

Fired FBI Director James Comey publicly confirmed for the first time Wednesday a series of “very concerning,” “very awkward” and “inappropriate” conservations with President Donald Trump that concerned him “greatly” — but do these interactions rise to the level of obstruction of justice?

Some legal experts say this isn’t a close call.

What is obstruction of justice? “Let’s just keep this in perspective. There is a criminal investigation going on of one of the President’s top associates, his former national security adviser, one of the most … important people in the government. He gets fired. He’s under criminal investigation and the President brings in the FBI director and says, please stop your investigation,” said CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin on CNN’s Newsroom. “If that isn’t obstruction of justice, I don’t know what is.”

But others cautioned that proving the President acted with a specific intent to obstruct an official proceeding from a legal standpoint still poses significant challenges.

“This moves the ball forward, but whether it moves the ball past the finish line will be up for debate,” said former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti, now a partner at Thompson Coburn. “The key question here is whether the President acted with corrupt intent and, to determine what his intent was, we have to look at all the facts and circumstances surrounding the case.”

The facts and circumstances described in Comey’s planned testimony are eyebrow-raising, and two details in particular struck some legal experts as particularly problematic. First, Trump repeatedly implored Comey to lift the “cloud” of the Russia investigation hanging over him. Second, Trump asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others to leave during a February 14 meeting so that the President could speak with Comey alone.

“The fact that he asks Comey to be alone with him is problematic and indicates a state of mind,” said Michael Zeldin, a former top official at the Justice Department.

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