Counsel to Watergate prosecutors sees ‘sufficient evidence’ for obstruction of justice case against Trump

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A former U.S. deputy solicitor general who helped prosecute the Watergate scandal says former FBI Director James Comey’s prepared testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee lays out enough evidence for an obstruction of justice case against President Trump.

“In prepared testimony released on the eve of his appearance Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, former FBI director James B. Comey placed President Trump in the gunsights of a federal criminal investigation, laying out evidence sufficient for a case of obstruction of justice,” Philip Allen Lacovara — who served as counsel to Watergate special prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski — wrote in an op-ed published in The Washington Post.

{mosads}Lacovara wrote that the former FBI director shows that Trump had “specifically attempted to shut off at least one major piece of what Trump calls the ‘Russia thing,’ the investigation into the misleading statements by fired national security adviser Michael Flynn concerning his role in dealings with the Russians.”

“This kind of presidential intervention in a pending criminal investigation has not been seen, to my knowledge, since the days of Richard Nixon and Watergate,” Lacovara wrote.

Trump repeatedly sought to influence the FBI’s investigation into Russian election meddling before firing Comey as the bureau’s director, according to testimony that Comey is set to deliver Thursday.

Comey’s opening statement details multiple interactions with the president, including a January dinner at the White House where Trump said he needed and expected the FBI director’s loyalty.

On Feb. 14, Trump cleared the Oval Office after a counterterrorism meeting to speak with Comey alone, according to the testimony. Trump then asked Comey to “let go” of any investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had been forced to resign the previous day for misleading Vice President Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, Comey will say.

“The obstruction of justice statute prohibits not only successful interference with pending criminal investigations but also any use of ‘threats’ to ‘endeavor’ to obstruct an investigation,” Lacovara wrote.

He wrote that Comey’s testimony “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.”

“Any experienced prosecutor would see these facts as establishing a prima facie case of obstruction of justice,” he wrote.

Still, Lacovara said it remains to be seen whether a sitting president will be “indicted while in office.”

“The ball now is in Mueller’s court to decide whether he has (or will have) enough evidence to charge Trump with obstruction,” he wrote, referring to special counsel Robert Mueller.

“And, if so, whether to reach the same conclusion that I reached in the Nixon investigation — that, like everyone else in our system, a president is accountable for committing a federal crime.”


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