Pious hopes

Think Progress on a new report from Brookings on Trump’s likely probable apparent obstruction of justice:

[T]he Brookings report — authored by Barry H. Berke, Noah Bookbinder, and Norman L. Eisen — argues that same wheeler dealer attitude coupled with Trump’s demands for loyalty, which helped make him famous on The Apprentice, could also land him in the hot seat and lead to obstruction of justice charges down the road.

The report outlines the many ways in which Trump could find himself faced with such charges, due to his many alleged attempts to influence federal investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election, as well as an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Notably, the report explains, those charges do not hinge on whether or not the president was successful in his alleged attempts.

“Attempts to stop an investigation represent a common form of obstruction,” the report reads. “While those defending the president may claim that expressing a ‘hope’ that an investigation will end is too vague to constitute obstruction, we show that such language is sufficient to do so.”

One would hope that such a claim would be too absurd to get any traction.

Efforts to impede an investigation fall squarely within three U.S. Obstruction of Justice Statutes (18 U.S.C, Sections 1503, 1505 and 1512), all of which were drafted “with an eye to ‘the variety of corrupt methods by which the proper administration of justice may be impeded or thwarted’”, the report explains. In other words, Trump didn’t need to directly ask Comey to drop his investigations to be breaking the law, and vague expressions of “hope”, and of coming to a mutual understanding, do not override his intent.

What’s more, the authors argue, it is essential to take into account the president’s position of power. “When a supervisor tells her direct report that she ‘hopes’ the employee finishes a task over the weekend…it is a directive,” the authors write. “Similarly when the president of the United States clears the room and tells the FBI director that he ‘hopes’ the director can ‘let go’ an investigation he has repeatedly disparaged…would appear to convey more than just the president’s idle fancies.”

It seems to me that Comey made it very clear that that’s how he understood Trump’s “hopes.”

Courts have repeatedly found the word “hope” does not excuse defendants from obstruction of justice charges. During the case of Jose Luis Bedoy, a corrupt Dallas Police detective, the court found that his statement to a prostitute of, “I’m just hoping that you haven’t told anyone anything…Like ya know, talking or anything like that”, was an attempt to impede an investigation into the officer’s corruption. In U.S. v.s McDonald, 1999, an obstruction of justice charge stuck when a defendant told his co-defendant “I hope and pray to God you did not say anything about a weapon when you were in Iowa.”

The theory Trump is obstructing justice by “hoping” charges get dropped is further reinforced by his continual demands for loyalty, as well as his allusions to a quid pro quo with Comey (“We had that thing you know”).

“Courts have held that statements emphasizing loyalty and urging it in return can constitute obstruction,” the paper reads. “Where a person suggests a benefit to someone for the purpose of impeding an investigation, or otherwise alludes to a quid pro quo relationship, it can be a contributing fact to determining whether conduct constitutes obstruction.”

Meanwhile, though, the best HOPE is that Trump will be removed as unfit long before Mueller’s investigation is complete.

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