“My common sense told me what’s going on here is that he’s looking to get something in exchange for granting my request to stay in the job”
—James Comey, Former FBI Director
There’s now more than enough evidence to indict President Trump for obstruction of justice. Successful prosecution may not be guaranteed, but there’s more than enough for a prima facie case, and if verdict depended on believing a witness, James Comey would win hands down.
Title 18 U.S. Code § 1510 – Obstruction of criminal investigations mainly discusses financial crimes, and evidently, there is some debate about whether the statute applies to the Comey situation. Writers at Lawfare, for example, have raised questions about the statute’s applicablity. Ryan Goodman, former special counsel to the Department of Defense and co-founder of the Just Security seems to think the statute applies.He quotes this part of Comey’s testimony as “devastating” evidence that Trump obstructed justice:
Our — our absolute primary concern was, we can’t infect the investigative team. We don’t want the agents and analysts working on this to know the president of the United States has — has asked — and when it comes from the president, I took it as a direction — to get rid of this investigation, because we’re not going to follow that — that request.
This certainly looks like Trump was interfering with the progress of an investigation. The legal questions have to do with whether an FBI investigation fits the wording of the statute.
When the bribery part of the statute is taken into account, however, Trump looks even more guilty:
Whoever willfully endeavors by means of bribery to obstruct, delay, or prevent the communication of information relating to a violation of any criminal statute of the United States by any person to a criminal investigator shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
Bribery occurs when someone “directly or indirectly, corruptly gives, offers or promises anything of value to any public official” in order “to influence any official act. In Trump’s case, he indirectly promised that Comey would keep his job if he dropped the Russia investigation into Flynn. That’s the quid pro quo. Aside from bribery in the obstruction of justice, bribery itself is a crime and might be a another statute under which Trump might be charged, 18 U.S. Code § 201 – Bribery of public officials and witnesses.
“by offering an inducement to act—offering, for example, to re-appoint Comey or suggesting that his future appointment might hinge on his shutting down an investigation of the president–comes perilously close to offering Comey a bribe.
Perilously, indeed. If criminal charges are in order, Article 2 of the Constitution also provides a political remedy:
The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.