Obstruction of Justice

Amanda Salazar, Editor-in-Chief

With the term “obstruction of justice” being thrown around as much as it is nowadays, it’s beginning to seem like anything done within the government can constitute obstruction.

It is no secret that United States President Donald J. Trump and his campaign team were being investigated on the charges of colluding with a foreign power and obstruction of justice by both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Special Counsel headed by Robert S. Mueller III.

Currently, committees in the House of Representatives are investigating Trump non-criminally for several things, including obstruction.

The term “collusion” has a pretty clear-cut meaning to it — working hand-in-hand with another entity for some specific purpose. According to an article titled “What Is Collusion? Is It Even a Crime?” from Politico Magazine, collusion isn’t a federal crime, so what was the criminal investigation from Mueller and his team really about?

Obstruction of justice. Well, and conspiring to collude, but that’s a whole other story.

MerriamWebster’s online dictionary defines obstruction of justice as “the crime or act of willfully interfering with the process of justice and law especially by influencing, threatening, harming, or impeding a witness, potential witness, juror, or judicial or legal officer or by furnishing false information in or otherwise impeding an investigation or legal process.”

Basically, the attempt to hinder legal proceedings, which can be done in any number of ways, such as threatening or bribing lawyers, judges, or jury members that are involved with a case.

It includes convincing witnesses not to step forward or trying to destroy evidence so it can’t be presented in court. It can be lying to lawyers or investigators about things related to a case or purposely hiding necessary information. It also encompasses covering up an incident that is liable to be investigated or even just ordering such a cover up.

In a video titled “What is Obstruction of Justice?” on The Washington Post’s website, former federal prosecutor Barak Cohen explained obstruction and then even went as far as to say that the investigative journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who uncovered the Nixon-era Watergate scandal could be considered to have obstructed justice.

Since obstruction of justice is such a broad term, it can be overwhelming hearing it so often in the news and it can be unclear how it relates to Trump.

Former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey said in a television interview with NBC’s Lester Holt recently that he believes that Trump obstructed justice when he fired him from the FBI, saying that the “Russia thing” — referring to the investigation — was on his mind when he made the decision.

Since Trump fired Comey to impede the investigation into the 2016 campaign that he was setting up, and he even admitted to it, it’s clear that this act really was a case of obstruction. Trump’s goal was to stop the investigation by removing to person who had started it, but as we now see firing Comey did not lead to an end to the investigation.

Additionally, it was being investigated if Trump obstructed justice when he tried to cover up an instance where his son, Donald Trump, Jr. met with a Russian lawyer in hopes to get information that would be harmful to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign against Trump, as a way of aiding his father’s campaign. This is the basis of Mueller’s investigation.

So, what should the American people make of the term “obstruction of justice”?

Well, they should accept it for what it is: a legal term that has, in fact, been in use for long before the Trump-Russia scandal and the investigations that followed.

It’s meaning hasn’t changed, but it has become a common, even household, term as a direct result of this situation.

As for jumping to conclusions about the Special Counsel investigation and its findings on collusion and conspiracy and obstruction? We will all just have to wait for the official report to become public and see.