James Comey (AP/Mike Groll)

Comey's testimony reveals something that "has not been seen" since Watergate: experts

Comey's statement strongly suggests Trump broke the law and committed obstruction of justice, experts say

Matthew Rozsa
June 8, 2017 11:45AM (UTC)

Former FBI Director James Comey's official statement may include enough information to pursue an obstruction of justice investigation against President Donald Trump, according to several legal experts.

As CNN's senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin put it, "There is a criminal investigation going on of one of the President's top associations... he gets fired, he is under investigation and the President brings in the FBI Director and says 'please stop your investigation.'"
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Toobin added, "If that isn't obstruction of justice, I don't know what is."


Meanwhile Philip Allen Lacovara, who served as counsel to Watergate special prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski, wrote in The Washington Post that the attempted interference in the Russia investigation outlined by Comey "has not been seen, to my knowledge, since the days of Richard Nixon and Watergate."

After noting that both Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers were unable to say that Trump hadn't asked them to interfere in the Russia investigation, Lacovara writes that "leaving little doubt about the price of continued retention, the president twice, according to Comey, told him that he expected 'loyalty' from Comey, just as he did from everyone else around him."

As Lacovara points out, "Comey’s statement lays out a case against the president that consists of a tidy pattern, beginning with the demand for loyalty, the threat to terminate Comey’s job, the repeated requests to turn off the investigation into Flynn and the final infliction of career punishment for failing to succumb to the president’s requests, all followed by the president’s own concession about his motive."

He adds, "Any experienced prosecutor would see these facts as establishing a prima facie case of obstruction of justice."

By contrast, Columbia University law professor John Coffee told CNBC that he thought it was unlikely Trump would face obstruction of justice charges because "it's generally believed that you cannot indict a sitting president because that would paralyze the government, and because impeachment is the constitutional procedure created to remove a president."

He added, "Any U.S. attorney who brings an indictment can be overruled by the attorney general — even if the case is meritorious."


That said, white-collar defense lawyer Gerald Lefcourt told CNBC that "if you put it all together, it's clear that he was trying to do everything in his power to stop the FBI investigation of Flynn."

Lefcourt argued that this is probably sufficient for an obstruction of justice case to go before a jury and "way more than enough for impeachment purposes."


Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a breaking news writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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