For the Left, Trump’s Obstruction Probe Is a Call to Action – HuffPost
[This column was originally published by Truthdig.com]
You can take it to the bank: Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States, is being investigated for obstruction of justice in connection with the May 9 firing of former FBI Director James Comey. It’s happening.
Leading the charge is another former FBI head with a reputation for doggedness and detail—Robert S. Mueller III. Appointed to the position of Justice Department special counsel on May 17, Mueller has been given a broad mandate to explore “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and … any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
To carry out his assignment, Mueller has assembled a formidable cast of 13 seasoned current and former prosecutors, who have worked on a variety of federal corruption probes, ranging from Watergate to Enron. According to reports, Mueller may hire still more. Plainly, he’s gearing up for the long haul.
The question no longer is whether Trump is personally the target of an official federal probe, but how the probe will end.
For supporters of Hillary Clinton, Mueller’s appointment and the widening of the Russia investigation to include obstruction are an unambiguous godsend, confirmation that the election was stolen from Clinton and that an erratic incompetent—or worse, a Putin dupe—has been installed in the White House. From this perspective, removing Trump from office via a threatened prosecution, impeachment or the mechanisms outlined in the 25th Amendment is the first step toward restoration of the neoliberal order.
For the progressive left—defined, for purposes of this column, as all who seek an egalitarian and humane alternative to both neoliberalism and Trump’s regressive nationalism—the obstruction issue presents a more nuanced challenge. On the one hand, progressives have a rare opportunity to play a role in ridding the country of a burgeoning autocrat. On the other, depending on how they engage, they run the risk of being reduced, once again, to bit players and minor voices in the nation’s political life, subservient to the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party.
How, then, should progressives position themselves as the obstruction battle unfolds? Although there are no easy, much less final, answers, this much appears clear:
We Can’t Afford to Sit Back and Watch From the Sidelines
This is a historic moment. While presidents are routinely charged with bad acts and foolish policies, there is nothing routine about the obstruction probe Trump is facing. Obstruction of justice allegations formed the core of the articles of impeachment passed against Bill Clinton and the impeachment articles that forced the resignation of Richard Nixon but were never formally voted on by the full House of Representatives.
The Trump obstruction controversy is of similar magnitude. It isn’t just another passing skirmish between warring camps of the American oligarchy, or fodder for cable news. It represents a struggle both to preserve constitutional norms and to redefine the meaning and reach of presidential power for the 21st century. We have an obligation to speak up, and, wherever possible, actively shape the terms of the public debate.
We Need to Master the Legal Basics of Obstruction
To participate effectively in the debate, we have to inform ourselves and the audiences we reach about the law of obstruction. You don’t need a law degree from Harvard to do that and to begin educating others.
I devoted my last two Truthdig columns to this effort. (See those columns here and here.) As I outlined, the relevant federal laws are found in Title 18, sections 1501 through 1521, of the United States Code. In all, the code sets out 21 separate obstruction crimes.
In those columns, I focused on section 1505, which makes it a felony to “corruptly” influence, obstruct or impede, or attempt to influence, obstruct or impede, any pending proceeding before a federal agency or Congress. The firing of Comey would fit within the statute, if the firing was done with the intent to influence the FBI’s investigation into alleged Russian meddling with the presidential election. In a prime-time interview with NBC news anchor Lester Holt on May 11, Trump all but conceded he dismissed Comey because of “the Russia thing” and because of Comey’s refusal to state publicly that Trump was not a target of the investigation.
Last week, Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, added more fuel to the obstruction fire. According to NBC News, Coats told House Intelligence Committee investigators that “Trump seemed obsessed with the Russia probe and repeatedly asked him [from March on] to say publicly there was no evidence of collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia.” Coats declined.
As from the outset, the president has been his own worst enemy, taking to Twitter and Fox News to denounce the probe, the “fake media,” Comey, Mueller and many others when he should have exercised caution and remained silent.
Trump’s latest unforced error occurred on June 22, when he disclosed in a pair of tweets that he had not taped any of his White House meetings with Comey. He had raised the possibility that he had done so in an unhinged tweet on May 9 warning that “James Comey better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
In a June 23 interview on his favorite TV show, Fox & Friends, Trump indicated, in response to a leading question from one of the hosts, that his May 9 tweet had been designed to “make sure Comey stayed honest” in any subsequent testimony or public disclosures. Because Comey might have thought their conversations had been taped, Trump speculated, “I think his story may have changed” in a way that made it less damaging. In other words, Trump was trying to exert his influence.