by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
When a law is well-written and clear, a person of ordinary intelligence can know exactly what is prohibited. To take examples from the most recent presidential impeachment controversies, Bill Clinton knew full well that it was unlawful to lie under oath. Richard Nixon knew full well that a person may not bribe a witness. And while the question of fact may be difficult to determine, the application of law is relatively simple.
By contrast, look at the obstruction case against President Trump. The Mueller Report laid out the legal standard in key paragraphs that demonstrate the incredible breadth of the relevant statutes and the difficulty of discerning illegality.
First, Mueller quotes a federal court stating that obstruction-of-justice law “reaches all corrupt conduct capable of producing an effect that prevents justice from being duly administered, regardless of the means employed.” This is a statement of astonishing breadth. But Mueller’s not done. He then quotes the Supreme Court to note that “the verbs ‘obstruct or impede’ are broad and ‘can refer to anything that blocks, makes difficult, or hinders.’” That’s right, “anything.” …
… You can take actions completely within your power as a citizen, employer, or public official and still be prosecuted for them if a prosecutor deems your motivation to be subjectively “immoral” or “wrongful.” Yes, this discretion is bounded to some degree by relevant case law, but there is simply enormous room for legal argument even if the parties agree on the facts of the case.