ANALYSIS-How Mueller's decision on obstruction helped save Trump
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By Jan Wolfe and Noeleen Walder
WASHINGTON, April 18 (Reuters) - The U.S. Attorney General
decided that President Donald Trump did not obstruct a probe
into whether his campaign colluded with Russia, but some legal
experts said prosecutors laid out a wealth of evidence to the
contrary and that they intended to leave that determination to
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report revealed new details
about Trump's attempts to impede his investigation on Thursday.
They included how the president tried to fire Mueller and limit
his investigation, kept details of a June 2016 meeting between
senior campaign officials and a Russian under wraps, and
possibly dangled a pardon to a former adviser.
Democrats said on Thursday the report contained disturbing
evidence of wrongdoing by Trump that could fuel congressional
Some legal experts echoed that view. They said the evidence
should have given prosecutors a strong basis for bringing an
obstruction case against Trump, but Mueller demurred because a
longstanding Department of Justice policy against indicting a
Jens Ohlin, a law professor at Cornell University, said the
evidence laid out by the Mueller report was "really exhaustive
in terms of the number of incidents and how severe they are."
In his report, Mueller focused on a series of actions,
including Trump's conduct toward law enforcement officials and
witnesses. At one point, Mueller says the Congress has powers to
check a president. At least half a dozen legal experts said the
special counsel intended Congress to take up the matter.
"There is a wink, and a nod, and another wink to Congress
that I have a lot of evidence and now the ball is in your
court," said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School
in Los Angeles.
House Democrats took that view as well. In a joint
statement, the House chairs said "the Special Counsel
undoubtedly anticipated" the Congress must assess the evidence.
But Republican Congressman Doug Collins disputed that
Mueller intended for Congress to decide on the view.
"The report doesn’t say Congress should investigate
obstruction now. It says Congress can make laws about
obstruction," Collins tweeted.
A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment.
Trump's legal team called the report "a total victory" for
"If they thought they had an obstruction case they would
have made it. They did not," said Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for
Trump, in an interview.
It is unclear whether the Democrats will push on
Congressional censure. And even if the House votes
to impeach, it is highly unlikely the Republican controlled
Senate would convict Trump.
Attorney General William Barr, a Trump appointee, defended
the president in a press conference Thursday by saying there was
insufficient evidence to bring an obstruction case against
In an earlier letter to lawmakers, Barr said the case was
also undermined by Mueller's finding that the Trump campaign did
not conspire with Russians to interfere in the election.
Under U.S. law, it is a crime to attempt "to influence,
obstruct or impede the due administration of justice."
To prove obstruction, prosecutors must show an individual
acted with a "corrupt" or improper motive - a specific intent to
impede an investigation.
Obstruction of justice is often coupled with some underlying
wrongful act that is being covered up, legal experts said.
With a sitting president, the issue takes on additional
complications. A Justice department policy dating back to the
Watergate scandal in the early 1970s advises against indicting a
The U.S. Constitution is silent on the question.
In his report, Mueller said he "accepted" the department's
legal opinion and was unable to come to a conclusion about
whether there was enough evidence to charge Trump with
QUESTION OF MOTIVE
The president's actions and intent "presents difficult
issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no
criminal conduct occurred," Mueller wrote.
But Mueller added that his report "also does not exonerate"
Trump of the crime.
In reaching his decision not to charge Trump, Barr said the
president had been "frustrated and angered" by a belief that the
probe was undermining his presidency.
Despite this, Trump did not deprive Mueller of documents and
witnesses needed to complete the investigation, Barr said.
"Apart from whether the acts were obstructive, this evidence
of non-corrupt motives weights heavily against any allegation
that the president had a corrupt intent to obstruct the
investigation," he said.
(Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, Richard Cowan and
Editing by Paritosh Bansal and Edward Tobin)
First Published: 2019-04-19 02:33:48
Updated 2019-04-19 13:00:00
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