Thu, May 18, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Legal experts debate Donald Trump’s request to close Michael Flynn probe


Some lawmakers are accusing US President Donald Trump of obstruction of justice after revelations that former FBI director James Comey wrote a private account of the president asking him to shut down an investigation into former US national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Congressional Democrats were already concerned that Trump was trying to stifle a probe into possible coordination between his campaign and Russia’s election meddling by firing Comey last week.

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said in a statement that “we are witnessing an obstruction of justice case unfolding in real time.”

However, obstruction of justice is a tricky issue both criminally and politically, and legal experts say it could be difficult to prove.


Simply put, it is preventing authorities — such as police or prosecutors — from doing the work of investigating and applying the law.


Comey wrote that Trump asked him to end an investigation into Flynn during a February meeting in the Oval Office.

Comey, who was known to keep a paper trail of sensitive meetings, chronicled the president’s request in a memo he produced soon after the conversation, according to a Comey associate who reviewed the document and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Flynn had just been forced to resign after lying about the nature of his contacts with the Russian ambassador.

The White House disputed the account of the Comey memo.


Obstructing justice applies to a variety of scenarios — such as threatening a juror, retaliating against a witness or impeding a grand jury proceeding — and Trump’s alleged request would not fit neatly into any of them, legal experts said.

“No one would write a federal statute with this situation in mind because it’s such an extraordinary situation,” Cornell University Law School dean Jens Ohlin said.

Meddling in a federal investigation could qualify as impeding a judicial proceeding under the obstruction statute, but to bring a charge a prosecutor would have to show the president was trying to “corruptly” influence the probe.

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley said Trump would have some lines of defense.

“The president can claim he was raising an issue of concern for a longtime associate,” Turley said. “That doesn’t mean that the question was not wildly improper, and frankly, would border on the moronic.”


Comey’s memos could be valuable in any obstruction investigation.

“What you have is contemporaneous documentation of Comey’s recollection of what the president said,” said Bob Bauer, who served as White House counsel under former US president Barack Obama. “That’s obviously a very powerful piece of evidence.”

However, barring recordings, a memo still becomes a case of “he said, she said,” former prosecutor Jonathan Lopez said.

Still, there is also a witness: Comey.

“He’s around and the best evidence of what happened in that meeting would be to call him as a witness,” said Barbara McQuade, former US attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.


Even if this did not lead to a criminal conviction, such a request could add to the basis for impeachment for obstruction of justice.

“It’s the whole pattern here, it’s firing Comey and also directing him to end the investigation against Flynn, all of these things are done because he wants to stop an investigation from reaching the highest echelons of the administration and possibly him personally,” Ohlin said. “It’s the type of political self-dealing that is intolerable.”

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