Well, at least it’s not collusion. That’s the non sequitur that Republicans — including President Trump — are using to avoid grappling with Michael Cohen’s guilty plea and statement implicating the president in criminal conduct. True, intentional violation of campaign laws to deprive voters of crucial information isn’t collusion with a hostile foreign power. Nevertheless, it is a scheme — a conspiracy — that purportedly included Cohen, the president, other campaign officials (not specifically identified in Cohen’s charging document), other Trump company officials (also not identified) and American Media Inc. The purpose of the conspiracy was to hide by means of campaign-finance violations the existence of two women whose accounts may have been the tipping point during a campaign dogged by Trump’s sketchy past.
Lots of things aren’t collusion/conspiracy. Obstruction of justice is a different crime, as is witness tampering. The key here is the word “crimes.” Serious felonies. Abuse of power. As to those crimes, Republicans show little or no interest. When did obstruction of justice become a trivial matter? It’s odd since the crimes for which President Richard M. Nixon was nearly impeached included obstruction of justice, and the basis for Republicans’ impeachment of President Bill Clinton was perjury, another means of interfering with the administration of justice. (Clinton’s misdeed was in a deposition, not on a campaign-finance filing.)
We’ve gone from “no collusion” to “collusion isn’t a crime anyway” to “other crimes don’t count.” (And, by the way, meeting with Russian-connected figures to get dirt on Hillary Clinton and signaling to Moscow that the email hacking should begin are most certainly cooperation with a foreign power. The question is what more was done in private and who other than the attendees of the Trump Tower meeting were involved.)
Recall that, just as the Kenneth W. Starr investigation began with Whitewater and ended with Clinton’s impeachment for lying under oath about Monica Lewinsky, we are now moving to sections of the criminal code that, by their very nature (obstruction, witness tampering), violate the chief executive’s oath of office. The president is obligated to “take care” to faithfully enforce the laws. That would mean enforcing laws against obstruction, witness tampering and conspiracy, too.
In their treatise on obstruction, Norman Eisen, Noah Bookbinder and Barry Berke write: “Many of President Trump’s alleged actions could potentially qualify as attempts to obstruct justice under [18 U.S.C.] Sections 1503, 1505, and 1512(c). Here, we focus on the circumstances and law as they pertain to President Trump’s possible attempts to impede the Russia and [Michael] Flynn investigations. . . . We note that any attempt by President Trump to try to stop an ongoing investigation is facially obstructive. . . . We explain that he is alleged to have done so using language that courts have considered sufficient to constitute obstruction. . . . [and] we discuss how his alleged persistent stressing of loyalty, vouching for Flynn, and alluding to a quid pro quo relationship in purposely private conversations, is also conduct raising questions about obstruction.” From trying to obtain then-FBI director James B. Comey’s loyalty to drafting a cover story for the Trump Tower meeting to floating false conspiracy theories these facts “mirror typical obstruction behavior that many courts have held is the kind of conduct that Congress intended to criminalize when it enacted the obstruction statutes.”
What’s more, these actions continue up to the present — harassing the attorney general to “unrecuse” himself; threatening the security clearances of current Justice Department employee Bruce Ohr and former intelligence officials involved in the Russia probe; and lambasting the prosecution while the Paul Manafort jury was deliberating, along with efforts to influence witness testimony.
Trump’s pattern of witness tampering, according to the report from Eisen, Bookbinder and Berke, stretches from a plot to discredit three FBI officials (Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, Comey’s chief of staff James Rybicki and then-general counsel James Baker) “after learning they ‘were likely to be witnesses against him as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation’ ” up to “reportedly telling an aide that [White House Counsel Donald] McGahn should deny a January 2018 story which alleged that the president had asked McGahn to fire Special Counsel Mueller.”
Honestly, Nixon didn’t do half this stuff. Maybe Mueller will uncover more instances of collusion other than the Trump Tower meeting. But if not, the actions Trump engages in up through the present day, if carried out by an ordinary person, would be grounds for criminal indictment on possibly dozens of counts. Since Trump is president and arguably is not to be indicted in office, the list of misdeeds certainly adds up to abuse of power. No wonder Republicans don’t want to talk about it.