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Tag: obstruction of justice

Is Trump Immune from Obstruction of Justice Charges? It’s Complicated, Legal Observers Say

Donald Trump

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Donald Trump’s personal lawyer brazenly declared the president “cannot obstruct justice” because he’s the “chief law enforcement officer.”

Citing the executive powers in the U.S. Constitution, Trump’s attorney John Dowd said the president “has every right to express his view of any case.”

Dowd didn’t elaborate, but his position drew comparisons to Richard Nixon’s infamous remarks in 1977: “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

Dowd’s position that Trump is legally incapable of obstructing justice  came two days after the president’s explosive admission that he knew his then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had lied to the FBI. It’s a felony to lie the FBI. 

Many legal experts believe Trump’s admission that he knew of the alleged crime bolsters special counsel Robert Mueller’s case that the president intended to quash a legitimate criminal investigation by urging then-FBI Director James Comey to drop the case against Flynn. When Comey refused, he told investigators that Trump fired him.

Trump fired Comey, leading to claims that the president obstructed justice, a felony punishable by prison time.

But can a president be criminally charged with obstruction of justice?

Legal scholars are deeply divided on the issue, but virtually all agree that Trump, if guilty, could be impeached by Congress on the obstruction of justice charges.

Just look at Nixon and former President Bill Clinton, both of whom were accused of obstruction of justice and were impeached, but never criminally charged.

“No one in the judiciary committees during the Clinton and Nixon cases ever claimed that the president is incapable of obstructing justice,” constitutional scholar Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina School of Law told ABC.

Former President Nixon

Gerhardt insists the president isn’t above the law and said it’s “absurd” to claim that Trump couldn’t be criminally charged for obstruction of justice.

Blanket Immunity

Peter Zeidenberg, a lawyer who focuses on white collar and investigations, agrees, saying blanket immunity for a president would mean he could lie to prosecutors, destroy evidence and violate other laws.

“That assertion would literally mean that the president is above the law,” Zeidenberg told Politico.

Eugene Kontorovich, professor at Northwestern University School of Law, said it’s possible that a president’s action could constitute obstruction of justice, but added that the president may direct “inferior officers,” such as Comey, because Trump is the president of the supreme law.

“Offering advice on prosecutorial discretion cannot amount to obstruction,” Kontorovich told Politico. 

Noting the law is very unclear and has no precedent in a criminal proceeding, some legal experts said the authority to determine whether a president committed obstruction of justice belongs to the U.S. House of Representatives, which has impeachment powers.

For that reason, some legal scholars said the best way to handle obstruction of justice is through the impeachment process, not through the legal system.

“The task of determining whether Trump acted improperly ultimately falls to the House,” John Culhane, professor at Widener University Delaware Law School, told Politico.

But Harvard Law School professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz, who focuses on constitutional law, insisted Trump cannot commit obstruction of justice by “exercising his constitutional power” to terminate employees and control appointees.

“I think if Congress ever were to charge him with obstruction of justice for exercising his constitutional authority under Article II, we’d have a constitutional crisis,” Dershowitz told ABC News. “You cannot charge a president with obstruction of justice for exercising his constitutional power.” 

Others disagree, saying the president is required to follow the law like any American citizen.

“We have a president, not a king,” said Sam Berger, senior policy adviser at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. “No one is above the law, whether it be Trump or any of his close associates. It’s the sort of desperate claim that makes you wonder, ‘What exactly are they hiding?’”

Trump Lawyer Asks Reporter If She’s on Drugs for Asking about Trump’s Termination Letter to Comey

James Comey testifies about President Trump before a Senate committee.

James Comey testifies about President Trump before a Senate committee.

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

White House special counsel Ty Cobb questioned whether a reporter was on drugs for asking why the president didn’t send his letter notifying James Comey that he was being fired as FBI director.

The unprofessional question came in an email exchange between Cobb and Business Insider’s Natasha Bertrand, who wrote a story about how the letter may be used as evidence in the obstruction of justice case against President Trump. 

Cobb declined to say why the letter was never sent to Comey and asked Bertrand, “Are you on drugs?”

Bertrand shared the exchange on Twitter.

“Cobb supposedly has a great reputation and is a very respected lawyer,” Bertrand told HuffPost. “He was brought in to bring some discipline to the whole operation. So I wasn’t expecting that response to what I thought was a pretty basic question.” 

Trump’s Lawyers Told Mueller the President Didn’t Commit Obstruction of Justice

President Trump, via White House

President Trump, via White House

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Donald Trump’s legal team met with special counsel Robert Mueller and argued the president didn’t obstruct justice by firing then-FBI Director James Comey.   

Trump’s lawyers insisted the president has the constitutional right to fire the FBI director for any reason and that Mueller was an admitted leaker, the Wall Street Journal reports

Comey said he was fired after he refused to back off an investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Mueller is investigating whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to interfere with the presidential election.

Updated: FBI Agent Indicted for Allegedly Lying about Oregon Refuge Standoff

Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was the spokesman of the occupation. Via YouTube.

Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was the spokesman of the occupation. Via YouTube.

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Update: 10:15 a.m. Thursday —  FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita, a member of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) based in Quantico, Va., was arraigned Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Portland on three counts of making false statements and two counts of obstruction of justice.

Astarita was one of a number of FBI agents assigned to the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. He was present during the shooting of Robert LaVoy Finicum on Jan. 26, 2016, in Harney County, Oregon.

Finicum was stopped by a roadblock, where he allegedly challenged officers to shoot him. He was shot and killed by state troopers while moving his hands toward his pocket, where he had a loaded weapon.

The indictment alleges, according to a Justice Department press release, that Astarita knowingly and willfully made false statements to FBI supervisory special agents, knowing that the statements were false and material to the FBI’s decision not to investigate the propriety of an agent-involved shooting.

Specifically, Astarita falsely stated he had not fired his weapon during the attempted arrest of Mr. Finicum when he knew he had in fact fired his weapon. Astarita also knowingly engaged in misleading conduct toward Oregon State Police officers by failing to disclose that he had fired two rounds during the attempted arrest. Neither round hit Finicum.

___________________________

Posted on Wednesday.

An FBI agent accused of lying about shooting at a rancher during the armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon has been indicted.

Sources familiar with the case told the Oregonian that prosecutors allege the agent made a false statement with intent to obstruct justice.   

The agent, who has not yet been identified, was the subject of a yearlong investigation by the Justice Department inspector general. He will be identified in federal court on Wednesday.

As local, county and federal authorities moved in on the occupiers, the Deschutes County sheriff said an FBI agent shot twice at the spokesman of the occupiers, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, a 54-year-old Arizona ranger. 

The bullets missed, but in the chaos that ensued, state police troopers fatally shot Finicum as he reached in his pocket, where he had a loaded handgun.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the FBI agent is on leave or has been fired.

Special Counsel Mueller Adds 13 Attorneys to Team Investigating Russia, Trump

Robert Mueller

Robert Mueller

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating the Russia investigation and President Trump, has added 13 lawyers as part of a high-powered team to help with the wide-ranging probe.

Among the seasoned attorneys are James Quarles and Jeannie Rhee, both of whom work for Mueller’s old law firm, WilmerHale, CNN reports.  Mueller also brought on Andrew Weissmann, who led the Enron investigation.

“That is a great, great team of complete professionals, so let’s let him do his job,” former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who investigated President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, told ABC News.

Not everyone agrees. Quarles, Rhee and Weissmann are heavy political donors, contributing almost exclusively to Democrats. Records show the trio spent at least $53,000 supporting Democratic candidates since 1998.

Only five of the 13 lawyers have been identified so far.

Mueller’s investigation of possible ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia has expanded to an inquiry into whether the president obstructed justice after suggesting to then-FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Friday morning, Trump attacked the allegations in a tweet, saying “nobody has been able to show any proof. Sad!”

Trump, Nixon Both Described Obstruction of Justice Probes As ‘Witch Hunt’

Illustration of a witch hunt, via Wikipedia.

Illustration of a witch hunt, via Wikipedia.

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

President Trump continues to insist he is the victim of a “witch hunt” in attempt to discredit the numerous federal investigations targeting him and his inner circle.

But he’s not the first president to claim he’s the victim of a political witch hunt.

photo-jun-15-1-18-34-pmFormer president Richard Nixon used the same phrase to describe the Senate Watergate hearings that led to his resignation. A Washington Post headline on July 22, 1973 read, “Nixon Sees ‘Witch-Hunt,’ Insiders Say.” 

Like Trump, Nixon was accused of obstruction of justice for trying to disrupt the investigation.

On Thursday, Trump tweeted, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”

Here’s a look at Trump’s other tweets in which he insists he’s the victim of a witch hunt:

Mueller’s Investigation of Trump Expands to Obstruction of Justice Probe

Robert Mueller, via FBI

Robert Mueller, via FBI

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign to interfere with the 2016 election has expanded to include a probe into whether the president attempted to obstruct justice.

Just days after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on May 9 in the midst of the bureau’s Russia probe, federal authorities began investigating whether the president terminated Comey over concerns of the probe.

The Washington Post, citing officials, reported that Mueller plans to examine whether the termination amounted to obstruction of justice. 

To dig deeper, Mueller also scheduled interviews as early as this week with Daniel Coats, the current director of national intelligence, Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, and Rogers’s recently departed deputy, Richard Ledgett. 

After Trump originally said Comey was fired for his handling of the Hillary Clinton investigation, the president later conceded: “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. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.”

At a Senate hearing last week, Comey said he believed Trump fired him for refusing to end the Russia investigation and a related probe into former national security advisor Michael Flynn.

“It’s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,” Comey said. “I was fired, in some way, to change — or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.”

A spokesman for Trump’s personal attorney lambasted the FBI, but not on the substance of the allegations.

“The FBI leak of information regarding the president is outrageous, inexcusable and illegal,” said Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Kasowitz.

President Trump Asked Top Intelligence Officials to Help End FBI Investigation of His Campaign

President Donald Trump

President Donald Trump

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

After President Trump repeatedly asked then-FBI Director James Comey to swear loyalty to the president during a one-on-one meeting in the White House in February, the Republican is accused of trying to get two top intelligence officials to intervene.

The Washington Post reports that Trump asked the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency to help him stop a FBI investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia. 

Trump wanted the top intelligence officials to public deny the existence of evidence of collusion during the 2016 presidential election.

The requests, which were denied by both men, happened during two separate meetings that could be used to help build the case that Trump was obstructing justice.