15 June, 2017
The investigation of possible Russian interference in the U.S. election is reportedly looking into whether President Donald Trump may have obstructed justice.
The special counsel heading the Russia investigation is Robert Mueller, a former FBI director. He plans to interview three Trump administration officials to study possible obstruction of justice, multiple newspapers reported.
The reports – in The Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal – said the information came from individuals with knowledge of the investigation.
Mueller is reportedly seeking interviews with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, National Security Agency (NSA) Director Michael Rogers and former NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett.
The reports said Mueller is looking into whether Trump sought help from Coats or others to end an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Flynn was removed from his job by Trump in February. He also was a top supporter of Trump during the campaign. White House officials said Flynn was let go because he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence. Flynn was dishonest about past contact with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak.
Comey served as FBI director for nearly four years before Trump ordered his dismissal last month. Comey testified before a U.S. Senate committee last week. He said Trump told him he hoped he would drop an investigation into Flynn's possible connections to Russian officials. Comey said he found this troubling because the FBI is supposed to operate independently of the president.
Trump's personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, said in a statement after Comey's testimony "the president never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone."
Trump has repeatedly condemned the investigation and called news coverage about it "fake news." He has denied there was any collusion between his campaign and Russian officials to interfere in the U.S. election.
He took to Twitter Thursday to criticize again. "They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice," Trump tweeted.
In a second tweet, Trump said, "You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history - led by some very bad and conflicted people!"
What is obstruction of justice?
Obstruction of justice is the crime of taking actions to interfere with an official investigation. A person could be using threats or force to influence, delay or block the administration of law. It could also include providing false information to prosecute.
The target of obstruction may be a judge, juror, lawyer, witness, or law enforcement or other government official. The suspected obstruction must show evidence of "corrupt intent." Legal experts say this is a very difficult standard to meet.
Jonathan Turley is a professor at George Washington University School of Law in Washington. He says he does not believe there is currently enough evidence to prove the charge against Trump.
"The president is not facing a particularly compelling case of obstruction for prosecution at this time," he said.
Andy McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor and now a fellow at the conservative National Review Institute, agrees. He said that as head of the executive branch of government, Trump has "prosecutorial discretion" to end an investigation. Therefore, he "couldn't conceivably have thought he was doing something wrong," McCarthy said.
Louis Michael Seidman is a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University. He also does not see a case for charging Trump. However, he said Comey's removal after refusing to carry out the president's wishes is "a serious matter."
"No one outside the White House is contesting the fact that that is what happened, that director Comey is telling the truth," Seidman said.
"If he is telling the truth, that means the president has lied about it and that is a further indication he may not be fit to be president of the United States," he added.
I'm Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from VOA News, the Associated Press and Reuters. Hai Do was the editor.
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Words in This Story
obstruct – v. block or stop
fake – adj. not real or true
collusion – n. secretly work with others to do something, especially illegal or dishonest
phony – adj. not true, real or genuine
witch hunt – n. attempt to blame or punish someone for something in an unfair way
prosecute – v. hold a trial against someone for crimes
compelling – adj. exciting, interesting
discretion – n. right to choose what should be done in a particular situation
conceivably – adj. possibility to imagine or believe
contest – v. to dispute or make an argument in a legal case