Did President Trump obstruct justice in his conversations with former FBI Director Comey? If you’ve been following Allahpundit’s excellent post on Comey’s prepared testimony you already know that both he and Ed don’t see any evidence of obstruction in it. Now George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley has weighed in on the issue. From the Associated Press:
Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, says nothing he read in Comey’s statement persuades him that Trump violated the law by interfering with a federal investigation.
Turley was referring to the entirety of Comey’s written statement, including his account of an Oval Office meeting in which Trump asked Comey to drop the investigation of former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn. Comey says Trump told him, “I hope you can let this go.”
Turley says in an email that “the comments are grossly inappropriate,” but that “we do not indict people for being boorish or clueless.”
Of course, that’s not how everyone is reading it. Here’s CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin:
Comey's statement establishes obstruction of justice by Trump. Period.
— Jeffrey Toobin (@JeffreyToobin) June 7, 2017
Here he is saying it on CNN:
— CNN (@CNN) June 7, 2017
Toobin’s statement is already being taken as definitive by many people on social media, but a CNN story on the question of obstruction, based on anonymous sources close to Comey, says Comey himself did not see the incident Toobin cites as rising to the level of obstruction:
As CNN reported last week, while Comey was “disturbed” by his meetings with the President, he “thought he had the situation under control” because he felt the President did not quite grasp the inappropriateness of his actions. Comey believed, according to one source familiar with his thinking, that the President could be “trained” about how you do and do not interact with an FBI director. He considered it, this source added, “an ongoing policing project.”
It is reasonable to conclude, this source added, that Comey did not think of any of the individual actions as constituting obstruction of justice. But, he also added, there is a question of whether the “aggregate pattern of behavior” that culminated in his firing could be seen very differently. In other words, while each episode could be seen as a “ham-handed misstep,” the sum of the actions — capped by the Comey firing — could become something much more serious, especially after the President told NBC that he was thinking of the Russia investigation when he made the decision to dismiss Comey.
Clearly, these sources are not arguing that Trump did no wrong. They believe (like Comey?) that there was a pattern, capped by Comey’s firing, which may constitute obstruction. But again, the incident cited by Toobin as establishing obstruction did not establish it in Comey’s view. Comey seems to have been more in line with Professor Turley in thinking Trump didn’t grasp what he was doing.
There will be many more stories on this topic tomorrow but unless Comey goes beyond his written statement, his testimony is not going settle the question of obstruction with a definitive answer. On the contrary, this is already turning into a pitched battle with people reaching very different conclusions based on the same underlying facts.