President Trump "likely obstructed" justice by firing FBI director James Comey, and as a result legitimate articles of impeachment could be drawn up, according to a new report.
The Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C. think tank, released the 108-page analysis Tuesday. It indicates that although impeachment would be premature before the investigation into Comey's firing ends, evidence that Trump obstructed justice was already in the public record.
"The public record contains substantial evidence that President Trump attempted to impede the investigations of Michael Flynn and Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, including by firing FBI Director James Comey," the paper says. "There is also a question as to whether President Trump conspired to obstruct justice with senior members of his administration although the public facts regarding conspiracy are less well-developed."
Trump infamously told NBC's Lester Holt in May that he fired Comey partly because Trump had concluded "the Russia thing is a made-up story." According to Comey, he was fired after he declined Trump's request for a loyalty pledge and after Trump said he had "hope" Comey would let the Russia investigation go.
The Brookings paper concluded that although Trump had the authority to fire Comey, doing so to end an investigation would be obstruction of justice.
"Attempts to stop an investigation represent a common form of obstruction," wrote Brookings analysts Barry Berke, Noah Bookbinder and Norman Eisen. "Demanding the loyalty of an individual involved in an investigation, requesting that individual's help to end the investigation, and then ultimately firing that person to accomplish that goal are the type of acts that have frequently resulted in obstruction convictions."
So, is a Trump impeachment on the horizon?
Special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to investigate whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to swing the 2016 election in Trump's favor. The Brookings paper didn't recommend impeachment but said it would be a viable option if Mueller found that Trump obstructed justice.
"The fact that the president has lawful authority to take a particular course of action does not immunize him if he takes that action with the unlawful intent of obstructing a proceeding for an improper purpose," they wrote. "There is already evidence that his acts may have been done with an improper intent to prevent the investigation from uncovering damaging information about Trump, his campaign, his family, or his top aides."
The White House has not commented on the paper.