Trump would be charged with obstruction if he were not president, 400 ex-federal prosecutors say

The former federal prosecutors believe Mueller's report found sufficient evidence to charge Trump with obstruction

Published May 6, 2019 4:08PM (EDT)

 (Getty/Don Emmert)
(Getty/Don Emmert)

Hundreds of former federal prosecutors have signed onto a letter asserting that President Donald Trump would have been charged with obstruction of justice if he were not the president.

In the statement shared online Monday, nearly 400 former Department of Justice officials who worked in every administration dating back to former President Eisenhower declared that the evidence of obstruction, as detailed in special counsel Robert Mueller's report, would "satisfy all of the elements for an obstruction charge."

Mueller declined to make a decision on whether to charge Trump with obstruction of justice. Attorney General William Barr claimed that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein determined the special counsel's findings were "not sufficient to establish that the president had committed an obstruction of justice offense."

But the ex-federal prosecutors wrote that "the evidence of corrupt intent and connection to pending proceedings is overwhelming." They pointed to Mueller's report, which identifies ten episodes of possible obstruction by the president.

They specifically noted the report's revelation that Trump ordered then-White House counsel Don McGahn to remove Mueller and later draft statements denying that the president  had made that request.

The former DOJ staffers also said Trump's attempts to limit the scope of the special counsel's investigation, as detailed in Mueller's report, are substantial enough to support an obstruction charge.

The signatories noted their beliefs are "not matters of close professional judgment. Of course, there are potential defenses or arguments that could be raised in response to an indictment of the nature we describe here. In our system, every accused person is presumed innocent, and it is always the government's burden to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt."

"But," they added, "to look at these facts and say that a prosecutor could not probably sustain a conviction for obstruction of justice  —  the standard set out in Principles of Federal Prosecution  —  runs counter to logic and our experience."

The former Justice Department staffers argued that guidance issued by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) which states that a sitting president cannot be indicted was the deciding factor over declining to charge Trump with obstruction of justice.

"As former federal prosecutors, we recognize that prosecuting obstruction of justice cases is critical, because unchecked obstruction  —  which allows intentional interference with criminal investigations to go unpunished  —  puts our whole system of justice at risk," the letter states. "We believe strongly that, but for the OLC memo, the overwhelming weight of professional judgment would come down in favor of prosecution for the conduct outlined in the Mueller Report."

The letter, which has accrued nearly 400 signatures as of Monday afternoon, was organized by the non-profit Protect Democracy and is still open to signatories. Notable signatories thus far include Bill Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts who is challenging Trump for the presidency in 2020, and Paul Rosenzweig, who was the senior counsel to independent counsel Ken Starr during the investigations of former President Bill Clinton.

Democrats have criticized Barr's decision to not charge Trump with obstruction of justice, accusing him of acting as the president's personal sword and shield. Even some prosecutors who worked for Mueller claimed the attorney general did not adequately represent their findings, telling associates the report was more damning for Trump than Barr had indicated.

Barr defended his actions during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, in which he reiterated his belief that he and his deputy both agreed there was not enough evidence to establish an obstruction offense.

The attorney general also said that he was "surprised" by Mueller's decision to punt on whether Trump had obstructed justice. Barr also revealed he did not examine the underlying evidence in the special counsel's nearly two-year investigation before deciding against the obstruction charge.

By Shira Tarlo

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All Salon Donald Trump News & Politics Robert Mueller Rod Rosenstein William Barr