Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush, predicted on Wednesday that “obstruction of justice and the lying” could lead to a Donald Trump impeachment.
When asked about a bombshell New York Times report that special counsel Robert Mueller is demanding documents on Trump’s actions since taking office, Painter said the investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia will come down to one question: Why did Donald Trump fire FBI Director James Comey?
“If James Comey was fired because of the Russia investigation, in order to put a stop to the Russia investigation, which the president pretty much admitted in front of the Russian ambassador there in the oval office — if that’s what really happened, I think there’s a very strong case for obstruction of justice,” Painter said on MSCNBC Wednesday. “There’s the power to fire the FBI director, but not the power to fire the FBI director in order to obstruct the investigation of the collusion with Russia.”
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Mueller, who is leading the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election is specifically seeking documents related to Trump’s decision to fire Comey in May and about a meeting he held the next day in the Oval Office with Russian officials, among other things, according to the report.
Painter said the May 10 meeting with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislyak could be of particular importance for determining Trump’s motives for firing Comey.
In the meeting, Trump reportedly called Comey “crazy, a real nut job,” and told the Russian officials his firing of Comey the day before had relieved “great pressure” on him.
Painter said there was “obvious collaboration” between Trump’s campaign and Russia and that “they’ve got to stop denying that.”
“The only question there is whether it was illegal collaboration, but the obstruction of justice and the lying ultimately may be what puts an end to this white house, they are in serious trouble on this,” Painter said.
Could obstruction of justice spark Trump impeachment
There are three impeachable offenses: treason, bribery and the ever-broad “other high crimes and misdemeanors,” and there is precedent to say obstruction of justice satisfies those tenets.
If the House of Representatives decides to move forward with impeachment, Trump would be the fourth president in American history to face impeachment — and the third for obstruction of justice.
Both Richard Nixon, for his involvement in the Watergate scandal, and Bill Clinton, for his affair with Monica Lewinsky, faced articles of impeachment on obstruction of justice and other charges. Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment and Clinton narrowly avoided removal from office.
Andrew Johnson was the first president to be impeached in 1868, though he avoided removal from office. The House accused Johnson of illegally his secretary of war from office. Johnson came within one vote of removal but was eventually acquitted.