To prove obstruction of justice, one needs to meet the following three elements: Show that 1) there was a proceeding pending before a department or agency of the United States; that 2) the defendant knew of or had a reasonably founded belief that the proceeding was pending; and that 3) the defendant corruptly endeavored to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which the proceeding was pending.
The first two elements here are easy to establish. Comey was leading an investigation into Russia, and Donald Trump knew as much. The question then becomes whether Trump “corruptly endeavored” to impede that investigation by firing James Comey. The evidence that we have received from the media over the last 24 hours illustrates, without a doubt, Trump canned Comey to impede the Russia investigation.
Here’s Trump’s reasoning for firing James Comey based on 30 accounts from officials in the White House.
Trump was angry that Comey would not support his baseless claim that President Barack Obama had his campaign offices wiretapped. Trump was frustrated when Comey revealed in Senate testimony the breadth of the counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s effort to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election. And he fumed that Comey was giving too much attention to the Russia probe and not enough to investigating leaks to journalists.
And as the NYTimes notes, Trump fired Comey because the Russia investigation was getting in the way of his agenda:
Yet even in his letter to Mr. Comey, the president mentioned the Russia inquiry, writing that “I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.” And that reflected, White House aides said, what they conceded had been his obsession over the investigation Mr. Trump believes is threatening his larger agenda.
CNN also adds that Comey was fired because he wouldn’t provide the president with assurances of personal loyalty, and because of the acceleration of the FBI’s Russia investigation.
The Wall Street Journal makes the case even more solid:
On Monday, as he was fuming and attempting to develop a reason for firing James Comey, Trump tweeted:
The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2017
He was trying to end the Russia investigation.
That’s motive. At least 30 sources — or witnesses in an impeachment hearing, if you will — say that Donald Trump fired James Comey because of the Russia investigation. The idea that Trump fired Comey over the Hillary emails is not only horseshit, but the man who wrote the memo providing that pretext, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, threatened to quit because of the position Trump and Sessions put him in.
But as Rosenstein was thrust into the spotlight shortly after news of Comey’s dismissal broke, he was reported to be taken aback and even threatened to resign, according to an unnamed person close to the White House who was cited by The Washington Post.
Forget calls for a special prosecutor in the Russia investigation for a moment. We don’t need it to get rid of Donald Trump, because he committed a felony by firing James Comey for the reasons he did. The problem, unfortunately, is that there are only three people who can bring charges: Jeff Sessions, Rod Rosenstein, and Congress — through impeachment. Sessions won’t. Rosenstein is a wild card here, especially if he’s as honest a people say and if he did threaten to quit over the memo.
Ultimately, however, I think this is going to be a decision left to Congress, and the questions the media should be asking Republican Congressional leaders now is not just “Should there be a special prosecutor?” but “Do you believe that Donald Trump obstructed justice by firing James Comey”? Mitch McConnell can say, “No, we don’t need a special prosecutor because we already have a Senate investigation,” but how is McConnell going to square the obstruction charges? After all, the White House has already backed away from its original explanation. Now they’re trying to say that Donald Trump had been contemplating firing Comey since he was inaugurated, but we know from several public statements that that is not true. However, thirty White House officials have ratted out their own boss and told the media exactly why Trump fired Comey: It was Russia.
That reasoning is a felony.
The dam is leaking and Republicans can only plug the holes for so much longer. Yesterday, a poll taken before Comey was fired showed that Trump’s approval rating with his base — white men without a college degree — had fallen to 47/46 approval/disapproval. When the Republicans start losing their base over Trump, it’s time to jump ship. They’ve got Mike Pence waiting in the wings, and with this cloud of suspicion hanging over the President, there’s very little chance it’s going to be able to pass any significant legislation. If the GOP wants to pursue its agenda, it should strongly consider using this gift that has been handed them: An obstruction of justice charge.
Ultimately, however, it may not matter. The FBI is pissed, and they may kneecap the President before anyone else can, according to the Post:
One intelligence official who works on Russian espionage matters said they were more determined than ever to pursue such cases. Another said Comey’s firing and the subsequent comments from the White House are attacks that won’t soon be forgotten. Trump had “essentially declared war on a lot of people at the FBI,” one official said. “I think there will be a concerted effort to respond over time in kind.”