DOJ Experts ‘Baffled’ As Trump Actively Opens Himself Up To New Charges Of Obstruction Of Justice

Adam BettcherGetty Images

Even as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report lays out the case for President Donald Trump’s potential obstruction of justice, the president continues to behave in new ways that could lead to obstruction charges, Business Insider reports. The president’s behavior has perplexed legal experts and former officials who feel that Trump, after having narrowly escaped formal charges stemming from Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, has continued to act in ways that could lead to new obstruction allegations.

“It is a federal crime to retaliate against a witness — meaning to take some specific action to harm a person (firing, for example) in connection with or as payback for the person’s prior testimony or statement to law enforcement,” said Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor. “It is also a crime to tamper with a witness — if the efforts at intimidation can be seen as efforts to influence or prevent testimony in the future by the parties being attacked or by others.”

Mueller’s report, while it failed to recommend charges of obstruction, indicated that based on the evidence, investigators could not definitively state that obstruction did not occur. Instead, Mueller laid out the facts available and left matters in the hands of Congress to make a determination and consider further action. In all, 11 potential examples of obstruction were identified in the context of the Russia investigation.

Also included in the report was Mueller’s personal acknowledgement that he respected a Department of Justice protocol which traditionally indicates that a sitting present cannot be indicted for a crime. He did, however, point out that criminal prosecution could take place after a president leaves office.

A former senior Justice Department official who worked closely with Mueller previously said that the special counsel would not have included those statements in the report if he did not feel there was evidence potentially showing criminal conduct.

“It’s baffling that the president would continue doing a lot of the same things that, at least in part, landed him in this mess in the first place,” the former official said.

Barbara McQuade, a former prosecutor from Michigan, generally agreed that the president’s behavior again flirts with obstruction of justice, but did not particularly feel that this was remarkable or consequential. Trump, she said, was no more likely to face formal obstruction charges from his ongoing conduct now than he did based on the contents of Mueller’s report.

In any case, Congressional Democrats remain largely in control of what happens next in terms of Trump’s potential accountability, with House members divided over the possibility of impeachment.