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Why Trump can be charged with obstruction, according to an expert

It's right there in the Constitution, says a leading law scholar.
Trump Obstruction of Justice
Photo: Getty Images

When discussing the potential consequences of the Russia investigation on President Trump, political analysts often say that even if there's evidence he committed obstruction of justice, a sitting president can't be charged with a crime. Others argue that the president can't obstruct justice because he's ultimately in charge of law enforcement. Both are incorrect, a leading Constitutional scholar said today.

According to Laurence Tribe, a Constitutional law professor at Harvard, the Supreme Court ruled that the president is subject to criminal investigation — and its consequences — in two rulings: In 1974's United States v. Nixon, the Court forced then-President Nixon to turn over White House recordings as an unindicted co-conspirator in Watergate; and Morrison v. Olson, the 1988 ruling that created the office of special prosecutor, who is able to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by the executive branch.

In Tribe's view, it's clear that Trump committed obstruction of justice in firing FBI Director James Comey after asking him to "let go" of the investigation into Mike Flynn's dealings with Russia. "A president who offers to keep the FBI Director in his job if but only if the Director agrees to 'go easy' on a national security director who has lied to the FBI about his dealings with a hostile foreign power is both offering a bribe and obstructing justice," writes Tribe. "And, if he does so with the motive of covering up his campaign’s conspiracy against the United States in orchestrating foreign interference with our presidential election, that president is engaged in a particularly pernicious form of obstruction."

One legal expert argued that if Trump fired Robert Mueller, he would be within his rights as the executive, citing the Constitutional shield that protects members of the House and Senate from being arrested while their legislative bodies are in session. Tribe said that protection doesn't exist for the president. "The same [obstruction of justice standard] would be true in spades if the President were to engineer a Mueller Massacre to rid himself of what he clearly sees as a meddlesome investigation into foreign activities that he fears might undermine the legitimacy of his presidency," says Tribe. "Placing presidential pride above the nation’s sovereignty is a grave abuse of presidential power by anyone’s definition."

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