Understanding Trump’s Obstruction

In order to prove obstruction of justice, a prosecutor must prove corrupt intent.  This intent to thwart an investigation can be hard to prove [1], though, unless you are a supporter of the president’s, it is pretty clear that the president’s actions were (and are) motivated by the lifelong scofflaw’s desire to block anything he thinks could harm him. 

I found this podcast, an episode of NPR’s Embedded (which I’d heard when it came out) fascinating to listen to again.  Particularly in light of the additional information that Mueller’s investigators uncovered about Trump’s mood and behavior on finding out that he was under investigation. 

We now know that on May 17, 2017, the president was greatly alarmed to learn that a Special Counsel had been appointed, in spite of his firing of National Security Advisor Mike Flynn and, when he wouldn’t let the Flynn investigation go, fucking Jim Comey.  The president’s famous words to Sessions, McGahn and others in the Oval Office should really be more famous:

“Oh my God.  This is terrible.  This is the end of my presidency.  I’m fucked!”

Clearly the words of an innocent man, arguably, but no matter.  With a slight majority in the Senate the man has no fear of being removed from office, no matter how much evidence is stacked up against him by any real and theoretical House investigations.  Trump’s policies endear him to wealthy conservative campaign financiers, particularly his huge tax gift to America’s wealthiest and most deserving and his packing the federal courts (with the indispensable help of zero sum obstructionist Mitch McConnell, who refused to let Obama fill vacancies as they came up) with conservative, Federalist Society-vetted jurists.  These accomplishments, by themselves, are enough reason for Republicans to hold the line, even if Articles of Impeachment emerge from the House, even if the evidence of Trump’s corrupt intent and ultimate guilt of obstruction of justice and other crimes is overwhelming.

Like I said, this February 2018 podcast is fascinating to hear.  It lays out a pretty decent case for the president’s corrupt intent and shows cause and effect quite clearly.  I know this is all considered OLD NEWS, particularly for a populace trained to respond only to BREAKING NEWS, but it is important news.   It is also important EVIDENCE.  It’s amazing how strong a case is laid out by this investigative team more than a year before the Mueller Report fleshed out much of this with sworn quotes from witnesses and participants. 

From Mueller we learn that on May 17th Sessions received a call from his deputy A.G., Trump appointee Rod Rosenstein  (who, after Mueller filed his ‘inconclusive’ report, resigned with obsequious curtsies to Trump) informing him that he had appointed a Special Counsel.  Sessions informed Trump, who promptly lost his shit.   Trump felt betrayed by two men he’d handpicked and appointed to lead the Justice Department, men he’d trusted to be loyal and protect him. 

Trump yelled at loyal Alabama racist Jeff Sessions for following DOJ ethics advisors instead of being Trump’s loyal consigliere, his Roy Cohn, his Robert Kennedy.   In Trump’s mind Sessions traitorously refused to undo his recusal, a failure that allowed a “witch hunt” against him to continue.  This witch hunt jeopardized Trump’s presidency and aggravated Trump no end.   Sessions clearly honored the legal standard for recusal — the appearance of impropriety — in Sessions’ case a glaring appearance of impropriety.   Trump snarled at Sessions about how he failed to  protect Trump from first Comey and now Mueller.   After lambasting Sessions he returns to his predicament:

“Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels it ruins your presidency.   It takes years and years and I won’t be able to do anything.   This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”

From Mueller report, page 290. 

Clearly the same words would possibly be spoken by an innocent man, arguably, but Trump’s actions after uttering these words point strongly to consciousness of guilt, his corrupt intent.

Around this time he casually admitted on TV that he would have fired Comey (who pressed on investigating Mike Flynn’s contacts with Russia and his perjury to FBI investigators)  without the letters he had Rosenstein and Sessions write (letters that recommended Comey’s firing based on his mishandling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails).  Trump intended, several times over the course of the Special Counsel’s investigation, to fire Mueller and shut down and/or obstruct the investigation.  He did this in numerous ways, as laid out in Mueller’s executive summary, the one Bagpiper Bill Barr refused to release for several weeks, a month.  The president made his intention to end the “witch hunt” clear over and over, as reported in Mueller’s report, as described in the Embedded podcast more than a year before even Barr’s summary of Mueller’s report was released.

Only a rare genius of obstruction and evasion like Bagpiper Bill Barr could spin his boss’s corrupt-looking intent as the innocent, totally understandable motive of a wrongly accused man angry and frustrated about a partisan witch hunt.  But that spin would come a year after this great podcast came out.

Here is the host of the Embedded podcast:

MCEVERS: People who believe Trump obstructed justice say he basically tried to influence, slow down or even stop the Russia investigation in his interactions with Comey and with some other people. And the deal with obstruction is even if the Russia investigation turns up nothing on Trump – if there’s no there there, as Trump and his party insist, he can still be found to have obstructed justice. Like, you can obstruct a thing that doesn’t turn out to be a thing. Trump supporters say the idea that he obstructed anything is ridiculous. And they say Trump’s just an unorthodox president who does things like a New York City real estate developer. We should say right here at the beginning that Trump’s lawyers declined our request for an interview.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: So what we’re going to do today is lay out a bunch of key moments over the first year of Trump’s presidency – basically, everything we know that could be considered evidence of possible obstruction – a lot of these big, major news stories that pop up on your TV and your news feed – so that when you hear the next headline about obstruction of justice, you’ll know what it means because this part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, this is the one that some legal experts say might actually be adding up to a case against the president.

The host asks the DOJ correspondent to define obstruction of justice:

MCEVERS: (Laughter) All right. To start off with, why don’t you just do what you can to describe what is obstruction of justice?

JOHNSON: So what it means is to attempt to impede or hinder some kind of investigation – a congressional investigation, an FBI investigation, a Justice Department investigation – with corrupt intent. So the law says you don’t have to succeed in derailing the investigation. You just have to try. But the key words there are corrupt intent – some kind of bad purpose. And it can be hard to prove that. Not everybody comes out and says I am firing this person because I want to jam up this investigation which is targeting me or my children. So you have to try to prove, if you’re a prosecutor, some kind of pattern of behavior and also a good reason – a good reason to tell the judge and eventually the jury about why this person would work so hard to jam up a federal investigation. That’s what an obstruction is.

Once again, apply Boof Kavanaugh’s mother’s judicial philosophy (I paraphrase):

Use common sense.   What smells true and what smells like a pile of Bagpiper Bill’s steaming scats?

 

[1] recall that Bagpiper Bill Barr decided, and publicly insisted, that Trump’s intent was the intent of an innocent man honestly wishing to be done with a baseless partisan witch hunt against him and that his anger and frustration (both “acknowledged” by Mueller)  were the proof of his innocence.   

As was the case with the crying, angry, frustrated Boof Kavanaugh, unfairly crucified by left wing fringe billionaires who manufactured a story about a drunk prep school boy falling on to a younger girl and grabbing at her clothes.

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