Leaving that issue aside, Trump made no attempt to hide most of the acts that his opponents portrayed as evidence of obstruction. He publicly fired FBI Director James Comey, publicly complained for a more than a year that Jeff Sessions had recused himself from the Russia investigation before finally sacking him, publicly described Mueller’s probe as a “witch hunt,” and publicly declared that he had “the absolute right” to pardon himself.
None of those actions stopped the Russia investigation, and firing Comey, which Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein justified before turning around and appointing Mueller a week later, probably prolonged it. Trump’s constant venting about the unfairness of the investigation and Sessions’ failure to protect him from it aroused suspicion, making it look like Trump had something to hide.
While obstruction can be a crime even when it is unsuccessful, Trump’s blatant ineptness and heedless flouting of political norms do raise questions about his motive, which is a crucial element of the offense. “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime,” Mueller said regarding the obstruction question, “it also does not exonerate him.”