Cover-ups and obstruction: Just another day at the White House

Joel Bautista | The Ticker

Joel Bautista | The Ticker

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

It is no secret that President Donald Trump and his campaign team were being investigated by both the Senate Judiciary Committee and Special Counsel Robert Mueller on allegations of colluding with a foreign power and obstruction of justice. Currently, committees in the House of Representatives are investigating Trump noncriminally 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. Collusion isn’t a federal crime, so what was the criminal investigation from Mueller and his team really about?

The investigation was about obstruction of justice. It was also about a possibly conspiracy to collude, but that’s a whole other story. 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 who are involved with a case — defines obstruction of justice.

Obstruction includes convincing witnesses not to step forward or trying to destroy evidence so it can’t be presented in court. It can include 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.

Former federal prosecutor Barak Cohen explained obstruction and then even went as far as to say that investigative journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who uncovered the Nixon-era Watergate scandal, could be considered to have obstructed justice, The Washington Post reports in a video.

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 as to how it relates to Trump. Former FBI Director James Comey said in a television interview with NBC’s Lester Holt recently that he believes Trump obstructed justice when he fired Comey 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 the person who had started it, but as people now see, firing Comey did not lead to an end of the investigation.

Additionally, Trump was investigated on possibly obstructing justice when he tried to cover up an instance in which his son, Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer. This meeting was a way to potentially obtain information that would be harmful to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign against the current president, and it was the basis of Mueller’s investigation.

So, what should the American people make of the term “obstruction of justice”? People should accept it for what it is: a legal term that has, in fact, been in use for a long time before the Trump-Russia scandal and the investigations that followed had happened. The meaning of obstruction of justice 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? People will just have to wait for Mueller’s official report to become public and see for themselves.