You Decide: Understanding Obstruction of Justice
By: Lisa M. Hayes
It’s a term we’re hearing a lot right now that sounds remarkably simple but isn’t:
Obstruction of Justice.
The term refers, broadly speaking, to willful efforts to interfere with the operations of the legal process, including criminal investigations.
You’d have to be living behind a rock in a cave in Mongolia to not know why those two words are echoing through our democracy these days. Although we don’t know what the Special Council knows in terms of the breadth and width of conspiracy, collusion, and obstruction, what we do know certainly begs the question: What happens if special counsel Robert Mueller concludes that President Donald Trump has, in fact, obstructed justice?
It is possible that Mueller could try to indict the president. Most political and legal experts suggest such an effort would probably fail. Though the issue is unsettled, the Constitution seems to grant the president immunity from criminal prosecution. However, we are in an unprecedented scenario historically. While many believe that the depths of the obstruction and conspiracy related crimes may rise above a “normal” interpretation of the Constitution on this matter, an indictment of a sitting president is unlikely.
That leaves impeachment — and although it’s happened before, impeachment is more or less the nuclear option in politics. Is obstruction of justice an impeachable offense? Most people think so. Nixon had an obstruction of justice issue. However, many people forget Nixon wasn’t impeached. He resigned before it happened.
The Constitution makes the president impeachable for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” As the history shows, high crimes and misdemeanors are egregious abuses of presidential authority. As Alexander Hamilton put it, the “subjects” of impeachment involve “the abuse or violation of some public trust.”
Our forefathers framed the Constitution around one simple belief. A President would not be allowed to abuse his power. These people were trying to build something that wouldn’t devolve into tyrannical abuses of kings and queens. They had some experience there. They knew what they wanted to avoid. The power handed to a president is a sacred trust, and if abused should be revoked. If you want to know what the founders had in mind, read the Declaration of Independence, which formed the essential backdrop for the constitutional debates.
It makes sense that a President should be afforded protections a regular citizen doesn’t have. If a President were to jaywalk that would be a crime. Not all crimes should be impeachable. The truth is Presidents are forced to make decisions for the greater good we will never know about in the dead of night that most would find immoral and might push the boundaries of the law as we know it. They should be shielded from prosecution for things like that – and they are.
It also follows that some abuses are impeachable even if they are not crimes. If a president tramples over people’s constitutional rights or decides to take a vacation for two months, he can be impeached, even though neither of those actions violates the criminal law.
If a President got involved in helping out a staffer who committed a misdemeanor offense, like a traffic violation, that would be obstruction of justice, but impeachment would be laughable. It would be wrong, but it wouldn’t rise to a level that warrants the disruption of government an impeachment would cause.
However, if a president obstructs justice in a way that interferes with or impedes an investigation where he/she has a vested personal interest that is a different story. A president cannot interfere with an investigation about themselves or a family member without crossing the line – obviously. This president is up on all kinds of lines like that.
Suppose the FBI is investigating a possible act of presidential treason or bribery. If so, serious interference with the investigation would be an abuse of authority, and it would count as an impeachable offense — whether or not the interference meets the technical standards for obstruction of justice.
There is a lot of debate right now about whether or not Trump’s Tweets are a statement of policy or fact, or if they are a rambling dump of thoughts in an attempt to converse with the people about all the feelings he’s having. The White House would like us to believe the latter because there have been too many, oh so many tweets that if taken in context would frame the president’s state of mind in a way that would leave obstruction of justice an inescapable conclusion.
This week Trump Tweeted:
…This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!
Representative Adam Schiff called that obstruction hiding in plain sight. Except it’s hard to call it hiding when the President of the United States tweeted it. It is an undeniable fact that Trump is under investigation for innumerable possible crimes. Calling for a stop to that investigation in such bold terms should be considered obstruction of justice.
A willful effort to interfere with the operations of the legal process, including criminal investigations.
Collusion is a crime.
Conspiracy with a hostile foreign power is a crime.
Obstruction of justice is a crime that gets you impeached, especially when you commit that crime so publically, with all the world watching.
“If this were a movie, no one would like it because it would seem to unplausible.”
How many times have you heard that in the last year?? How many times have you heard the word “unprecedented”?
And it’s true. We’re right in the middle of making history in one of the darkest chapters of modern civilization. However, we’re not just observers. We are participants in this story. The action or inaction of our representatives will be on record for generations to know, as will my action or inaction and yours.
We cannot wait for the midterms.
We need to demand impeachment now.
More by Lisa:
Lisa M. Hayes, Senior Editor of Confluence Daily.
Confluence Daily is the one place where everything comes together. The one-stop for daily news for women.