This piece first appeared on Informed Comment

Donald Trump keeps trying to hypnotize people by saying “no collusion, no obstruction,” and saying that Robert Mueller exonerated him. Because so few Americans and so few in Congress will actually read the Mueller report, he thinks he can get away with the big lie.

Mueller explicitly denied yesterday that he had exonerated Trump. So that’s a Trump lie.

The Mueller report contains ample evidence that Trump attempted to obstruct the Mueller investigation. In fact, we know that Trump tried as hard as he could to simply fire Mueller for the purpose of obstructing the Mueller report.

Although Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., did not in fact elicit from Mueller, as Alex Ward at Vox showed, an admission that he had decided on Trump’s guilt but did not indict, Lieu carefully walked Mueller through the report to establish fairly conclusively that Trump committed what any reasonable person, knowledgeable of the law, would conclude was obstruction of justice:

Lieu demonstrated from the Mueller report that all three elements of obstruction of justice were committed by Trump when he told White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller and then told McGahn to cover up the order (which was not implemented).

LIEU: Thank you, director Mueller, for you long history of service to our country including your service as a Marine where you earned a brown star with a V device.

I’d like to now turn to the elements of obstruction of justice as applied to the president’s attempts to curtail your investigation. The first element of obstruction of justice requites and obstructive act, correct?

MUELLER: Correct.

LIEU: OK. I’d like to direct you to page 97 of Volume 2 of your report, and you wrote there on page 97, quote, “Sessions was being instructed to tell the special counsel to end the existing investigation into the president and his campaign,” unquote. That’s in the report, correct?

MUELLER: Correct.

LIEU: That would be evidence of an obstructive act because it would naturally obstruct their investigation, correct?

MUELLER: Correct.

LIEU: OK. Let’s turn now to the second element of the crime of obstruction of justice which requires a nexus to an official proceeding. Again, I’m going to direct you to page 97, the same page of Volume 2. And you wrote, quote, “by the time of the president’s initial one-on-one meeting with Lewandowski on June 19, 2017, the existence of a grand jury investigation supervised by the special counsel was public knowledge.” That’s in the report, correct?

MUELLER: Correct.

LIEU: That would constitute evidence of a nexus to an official proceeding because a grand jury investigation is an official proceeding, correct?


LIEU: OK. I’d like to now turn to the final element of the crime of obstruction to justice. On that same page, page 97, do you see where there is the intent section on that page?

MUELLER: I do see that.

LIEU: All right. Would you be willing to read the first sentence?

MUELLER: And that was starting with…

LIEU: Substantial evidence.

MUELLER: Indicates that the president…

LIEU: If you read that first sentence, would you be willing to do that?

MUELLER: I’m happy to have you read it.

LIEU: OK. I will read it. You wrote, quote, “substantial evidence indicates that the president’s effort to have Sessions limit the scope of the special counsel’s investigation be featuring (ph) election interference was intended to prevent further investigative scrutiny of the president and his campaign’s conduct,” unquote. That’s in the report, correct?

MUELLER: That is in the report, and I rely what’s in the report to indicate what’s happened in the paragraphs that we’ve been discussing.

LIEU: Thank you. So to recap what we’ve heard, we have heard today that the president ordered former White House Counsel, Don McGahn, to fire you. The president ordered Don McGahn to then cover that up and create a false paper trail. And now we’ve heard the president ordered Corey Lewandowski to tell Jeff Sessions to limit your investigation so that he — you stop investigating the president.

I believe any reasonable person looking at these facts could conclude that all three elements of the crime of obstruction of justice have been met. And I’d like to ask you the reason, again, that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of OLC opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president, correct?

MUELLER: That is correct.

LIEU: The fact that their orders by the president were not carried out, that is not a defense to obstruction of justice because a statute itself is quite dry. It says that as long as you endeavor or attempt to obstruct justice, that would also constitute a crime.

MUELLER: I’m not going to get into that at this juncture.

LIEU: OK. Thank you, and based on the evidence that we have heard today, I believe a reasonable person could conclude that at least three crimes of obstruction of justice by the president occurred. We’re going to hear about two additional crimes. That would be the witnessed hamperings of Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, and I yield back.

MUELLER: Well, the only thing I want to add is that I’m going through the elements with you do not mean or does not mean that I subscribe to the — what you’re trying to prove through those elements.

Objections that McGahn did not follow through on the order are irrelevant, since obstruction is defined as attempting to obstruct, which Trump did. Objections that the obstruction was to stop an investigation into collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign, which was not proved, are also irrelevant, because an accused person can attempt to obstruct an investigation even if the investigation’s premise is never proved.

Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson’s questioning underlined that obstruction can be committed even in noncriminal matters, for instance, to avoid personal embarrassment.

As for collusion, what Mueller found was that there was insufficient evidence of criminal conspiracy, which is a federal crime, to bring charges. He did not conclude that there was no criminal conspiracy, only that he could not prove one. Collusion is a much vaguer conception and is not a defined crime in the law. But Mueller did not rule out collusion, as The Washington Post’s Philip Bump points out.

In fact, since “collusion” is not a legal term, it seems obvious that there was collusion. As Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., elicited from Mueller, the Russians extensively interfered in the 2016 election, and the Trump campaign team actively welcomed this interference in the election.

That would be a form of collusion.


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