This morning’s news is again filled with a new and troubling disclosure out of the Trump White House. Various news organizations are reporting that President Donald Trump spoke to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers about the Russian investigation and asked them to publicly deny evidence of cooperation between his campaign and Russia. I was on Morning Joe today and once again cautioned about declaring a prima facie case of obstruction (as many have done on CNN and other networks) in the absence of facts satisfying the elements for that crime. While it is obviously something of a buzz kill, there still is not sufficient evidence (even if these accounts are true) to support an indictment.
(a)Whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, endeavors to influence, intimidate, or impede any grand or petit juror, or officer in or of any court of the United States, or officer who may be serving at any examination or other proceeding before any United States magistrate judge or other committing magistrate, in the discharge of his duty, or injures any such grand or petit juror in his person or property on account of any verdict or indictment assented to by him, or on account of his being or having been such juror, or injures any such officer, magistrate judge, or other committing magistrate in his person or property on account of the performance of his official duties, or 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 as provided in subsection (b). If the offense under this section occurs in connection with a trial of a criminal case, and the act in violation of this section involves the threat of physical force or physical force, the maximum term of imprisonment which may be imposed for the offense shall be the higher of that otherwise provided by law or the maximum term that could have been imposed for any offense charged in such case.
Whoever 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 and proper administration of the law under which any pending proceeding is being had before any department or agency of the United States, or the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any inquiry or investigation is being had by either House, or any committee of either House or any joint committee of the Congress—
Shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism (as defined in section 2331), imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both.
Notably, Trump was public about his dismissal of the Russian investigation and his view that it was a politically manipulated allegation. He was not hiding his desire to see the investigation ended. His comments to Comey and others were clearly and grossly improper. But were they crimes in themselves? That is the more difficult question.
The comments could reflect Trump’s sensitivity over allegations tarnishing his historic victory over Clinton. He is notoriously sensitive over his public persona. The additional allegations (and contemporary memorialization by staffers) offer ample reason to investigation and obstruction should be a focus of the investigation. However, such investigations generally work from a foundation in the criminal code. As of now, his comments make Trump appear more like Captain Queeg than John Gotti: