Trump might have obstructed justice, and his ignorance and incompetence is no defense


Former FBI Director James Comey's explosive testimony about the Trump White House's lies and pressure to drop the Russia investigation show that no matter the administration tries to spin it, the situation smells increasingly criminal.

Former FBI Director James Comey testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday appeared to offera compelling case against Donald Trump for obstruction of justice.

Comey was unequivocal in asserting that he was fired because of the FBI's criminal investigation of Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and the links between members of the Trump team and Russia.

And he was crystal clear in his testimony that that the president had pressured him to drop the investigation, and had lied to the public about the matter. As a result, Comey's explosive testimony has created a war of words between the earnest former FBI director and the Tweeter-in-Chief.

If Comey's testimony is true, it strengthens the case that Trump might be guilty of obstruction of justice.

In the New Yorker, legal scholar Jeffrey Toobin concluded, "That’s the only rational conclusion to be reached if James Comey’s opening statement for his planned testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, on Thursday, is to be believed."

The federal statute on obstruction of justice provides that anyone who "corruptly or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice, shall be punished[.]"

This law relating to obstruction of justice is very broad, and allows for typically lawful acts — like the president's firing of an FBI director — to be in violation of the law if they are done with "corrupt intentions."

So, of course Trump's propaganda machine and enablers have started to roll out the excuses and accusations to discredit Comey, diminish the sting of his testimony, and attempt to persuade the public, and prosecutors, that Trump's intentions were pure.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, meanwhile, begs us to be patient with Trump because he is "new to this," and can't be blamed for his abundant mistakes and ignorance of the law, and the protocols of our nation's highest office that he so willingly, and aggressively, pursued.

On NBC, Nicole Wallace called this the "stupidity defense." Trump and his personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, have vacillated between calling Comey a liar and a criminal for violating executive privilege — though legal experts overwhelmingly reject this — and claiming that Comey's testimony somehow exonerated Trump from any wrongdoing.

Trump managed to combine both contradicting arguments in a single tweet the day after Comey's testimony, insisting that Comey had made "so many false statements and lies," and yet also provided "total and complete vindication" for Trump.

It is certainly possible that Trump is ignorant of protocols and proper procedures relevant to his office. And he has proven his incompetence to govern the nation and protect our national security interests and secrets time and time again.

But his ignorance and incompetence do not exonerate him from culpability in his intentions to subvert and ultimately stop the investigations into his team's cozy relationship with the Russians — from his son-in-law, to his former national security adviser, to his attorney general — and potential collusion with Russia's uncontroverted efforts to undermine the U.S. elections.

Trump's words, deeds, and tweets shatter all suggestions that his intentions were innocent. An extensive timeline of events over the entirety of Trump's tenure in office illustrates how the president consistently exerted pressure on Comey with respect to the investigation of Flynn.

Regularly calling the Russia investigations a "witch hunt" on Twitter, Trump summarily fired those who placed his administration under investigation, including Comey, Sally Yates and Preet Bharara.

He admitted to NBC's Lester Holt on national television that, contrary to statements made by his press secretary and Vice President Mike Pence that Comey's firing was based on a recommendation in a memo by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, he had decided to fire Comey before any such memo existed.

He also admitted in the interview that he questioned Comey about whether he was under investigation. And though he claims that he never asked Comey for his loyalty, he has already started down his well-trodden path of double-speak by claiming, "There would be nothing wrong if I did say it."

The president's actions and words reveal his corrupt intentions to controvert a federal investigation. And though he now claims to want to testify under oath about Comey's testimony, the president should be careful not to add a perjury offense to his potential obstruction of justice.

As someone who has for years repeated easily debunked lies — about President Barack Obama's place of birth, to an absurd claim that millions of illegal voters robbed him of the popular vote, to the size of his inauguration crowds — he has little to no credibility.

Polls show that the American people increasingly mistrust the president and use negative terms like "liar" to describe him.

So Trump will face an uphill battle convincing anyone that his is the more accurate and trustworthy description of what he said to Comey after he kicked everyone else out of the room to confront him about the investigations in private. The president's reputation for reliability and truthfulness is shaky, at best. Especially compared to the reputation of the former FBI director.

And, though unlikely, what if Trump is telling the truth about the existence of tapes of his conversations with Comey?

In the words of Comey during his testimony on Thursday, "Lordy, I hope there are tapes."